“…seven hundred cannons ready to fire….” Civil War Letter 3

Susan Taylor Block

(What follows is the gently edited text of a Civil War letter written by Andrew Jackson Stone, my great-great grandfather.)

“House of Boyds, South Carolina

March 20, 1863

Dear Wife,

I take my pen in hand to drop you a few lines to inform you that I am well at present. Hoping those fine few lines may find you the same. I have been looking for a letter from you for several days. I have written once to you since I recieved a letter from you. I have nothing of interest to write to you at present. Everything is quiet on the coast today.

I have been correctly informed of your Father’s departure and was shocked with sorrow to hear of his death. I hope you not take to heart no more of the trials of this world than you can avoid. I want you to write whether your Brother will have to go to the service or not and if he goes, I would like for him to come to our Company and if we stay here I don’t think that we will get in to a fight soon for we are so well fortified here that the Yankees will never make any attack at this place. We have seven hundred cannons ready to fire all at the same time if needful. I heard last Saturday about your Father being dead and I have been looking for a letter from you and since I want to know when you heard from Henry Oldham and your Brother, Orran. Give my respects to all inquiring friends. So I must close by saying write soon. Direct your letter Col. D 67th Regt. NCT.

Yours truly,

A. J. Stone”

(Use of any part of this letter should be acknowledged as susantaylorblock.com  )

See:   http://susantaylorblock.com/2013/02/18/8457/



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“Without being Wounded or Killed” – Civil War Letter 2

Susan Taylor Block



What follows is a letter from my great-great grandmother, Emily, to her husband, Andrew Jackson Stone. She writes from Chatham County, NC.


“Peddlars Hill, Sept. 5

Dear Husband,

Yours of the 28th came to hand last mail informing me that you had been in a fight, lost a great many of your com. Many killed, wounded, and taken prisoner. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that you escaped unhurt. I heard of it before I got your letter and was very uneasy that you might be amongst the prisoners. I don’t know how in the world you got out without being wounded or killed. This leaves all well but myself. I have been almost crazy with toothache today but it feels easy now. There is no news worth writing. Henrietta’s baby has been very sick this week. Something like cold, but is better now. I wrote to you last week and sent you 5.00 dollars. I hope you will get it. Mr. Dowdy and Henrietta expect to move soon as he is not able to go back in the Army any more. The 45 men will be examined at Pittsboro nest week so they will be called off soon.

We have not commenced making molasses yet. Farmers are getting busy getting fodder. Corn crops are tolerably good. My potatoes are right good. I have tried them a time or two. We got a letter from Fran last week. He is well. Patsy and family are well. Mother’s family are well and doing well. Mrs. Fields got a letter from Noah last week. He says he is doing very well, expects to get home in a week or two. Edgar and Joel {Andrew and Emily’s young sons} send a heap of howdy to Pa. Mother and family join me in a heap of love to you. The Rives family send their respects to you. Write soon.

I remain your affectionate wife,

E. H. Stone”                                 http://susantaylorblock.com/2013/02/18/8457/


Joel Stone, son of Andrew and Emily, poses with granddaughters Margie Stone (Elliott) and Betty Hill (Taylor), about 1932. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Joel Stone, son of Andrew and Emily, poses with granddaughters Margie Stone (Elliott) and my mother, Betty Hill (Taylor), about 1932. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

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“Camp of Destruction” – Civil War Letter 1

EXCERPT.AJ Stone. Civil War Letters 2

“…I am sorry for every man who has to leave his home and family to go to the tented field to a camp of destruction….” – Andrew Jackson Stone.


Susan Taylor Block

What follows is the gently edited text of a Civil War letter written by Andrew Jackson Stone, my great-great grandfather.

“Sept. the 25, 1862

(In care of) Phoebe S. Elmore

A. J. Stone, Manchester, Cumberland County


My Dear Brother,

I embrace the opportunity of writing you an answer to your kind letter that we received some two weeks ago. Have been waiting for Jesse to have it right for you, sent it to him, but he keeps putting it off till I have got tired of waiting and I am going to write it myself as there is no one present. We are all well at this time and hope when this comes to hand it may find you enjoying the best of health. I heard the yellow fever was ragin in Wilmington and am very uneasy about you for fear it will get in your camp. I was very glad to hear that you were better satisfied than you thought you would, but I am sorry for every man who has to leave his home and family to go to the tented field to a camp of destruction, I call it.

You wanted me to write where William Elmore is. I received a letter from him last evening. He is at Raleigh, Camp Mangum. He came home when the prisoners were exchanged and formed in the old company and went to Camp Mangum and is there yet and I don’t know when they will leave there or where they will go. He was well when he wrote his letter.

I want you to write, as soon as this comes to hand, how you are and if you have heard any more from Henry Oldham and if you hear anything from goshw (Joshua?) Stone for we can’t hear a word from him. Jesse doesn’t hope to leave….it all the factory will bear him from … and Sally says she is not a going to get married till all the soldiers get home for she is a going to have a soldier or none and she has not gotten a letter from the one that you speak of in two months or more and she can’t hear anything from him….”

(Cover addressed to Mrs. Emily H. Stone, Peddlars Hill P.O., Chatham County, N. Carolina. Legible part of postmark reads, “WIL.”)

Assorted notes:

-Andrew wrote this letter from Manchester, in Cumberland County. Company E of the 8th North Carolina was originally raised as the “Manchester Guardians” in Northern Cumberland County. Captain James M. Williams commanded this company. Additionally, the Carolina Boys of Cumberland County were Company K of the 38th North Carolina Regiment headed by Captain Murdoch McLaughlin McRae age 20. This unit boasted the highest percentage of men with Highland Scot names in the Confederacy. Captains Peter Mallet, O.H. Blocker, Francis N. Roberts and Peter Sinclair commanded troops in this regiment.

-Andrew wrote to his twin brother, William Stone. Their parents were Elijah and Phoebe Willitt Stone, who moved to North Carolina from Virginia, about 1820. Andrew and William were members of Company G. William was killed in the Peachtree Creek Battle in Atlanta, in 1864.

-Andrew lost his life to friendly fire when a Confederate soldier, who spotted him with a Union powder horn, mistook him for the enemy. Having lost his own powder horn during battle, Andrew had taken the horn off the body of a dead Yankee.

The fateful powder horn.

The fateful powder horn.

-At least 650 Wilmington residents were victims of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1862.

-William Elmore was married to Andrew’s sister, Phoebe Stone Elmore.

-Camp Mangum was located where the NC State Fairgrounds are today.

-Henry Oldham, killed in 1863, was married to Andrew’s sister, Martha “Patsy” Stone Oldham Dowdy of Goldstone, N.C. “Aunt Patsy Dowdy,” as my grandmother always called her, made a beautiful coverlet that has survived. When I asked Nana what the story was, she answered, “The coverlet is the only thing the Yankees didn’t take.”






The coverlet, 148 years after its close call.

The coverlet, 148 years after its close call.


(Information republished from this blog should be acknowledged as susantaylorblock.com)

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The Lions of Landfall

by Susan Taylor Block


Lions graced the Bungalow at Pembroke Park. The girls are unidentified. (Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum)

It’s no wonder “lions” once lounged at Landfall, an expansive community near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Owner Pembroke Jones’s voice was described as a roar when riding in his carriage down Jones Road, after the grand parties.For most of its 20th-century life, Landfall was known as Pembroke Park, a 2,000-acre hunting preserve that was owned by Pembroke Jones. Henry Walters was Jones’s best friend and he took artistic charge of Pembroke Park before Jones could do so much as order up the kit house he threatened to build there as his lodge.

Lions represent royalty and have been depicted in almost every facet of art. Henry Walters acquired many distinctive “lions” while amassing his enormous, diverse personal collection that he bequeathed to the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore. William Walters, Henry’s father, acquired a lion statue by French sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye, and placed it near the Walters’ Mount Vernon Avenue estate in Baltimore.


“Fuchi with Crouching Lions,” one of many such treasures acquired by Henry Walters. (Artist: Hagiya Katsuhira. Walters Art Gallery)

Walters hired John Stewart Barney to design an exquisite Italianate villa on the property that bordered Wrightsville Sound. Barney was a New York architect, novelist, and author who kept company with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, and Walters in New York City and Newport. Versatile and studious, his design portfolio ranged from big city churches and libraries, to the development plan for the restoration of Williamsburg.

The Joneses called their 39-room home at Airlie Gardens, near Pembroke Park, “the Shack”; their mansion in Newport, “the Cottage”; and the new hunting lodge, “the Bungalow.” When the Bungalow was complete, about 1905, Walters filled it with furnishings from Palazzo Accoramboni, a palace in Rome, and invited many of his friends from Europe to visit the new spread. Lions were incorporated into Bungalow’s original design.


One of two Landfall lions that much caught attention when they graced the steps of City Hall. (Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum)


Former Mayor J. E. L. Wade and unidentified lion admirers at City Hall, about 1962. (Photo courtesy of Cape Fear Museum)

In 1912, Pembroke and Sarah Jones’s daughter, Sadie, born in an upstairs room at Wilmington’s Governor Dudley Mansion, married architect John Russell Pope at Mount Lebanon Chapel, in Airlie. Pope, who designed the Temple of Love at Pembroke Park, also designed the classical Lion’s Gate that divided the two Jones properties, Airlie and Pembroke Park, on the southern and northern ends of Jones Road. Most of the Lion’s Gate structure still exists, and it sits at the rear of the Lion’s Gate condominium community, off Eastwood Road.

Sadly, two large elegant marble lions that once stood at the gate were destroyed. The lions were imported from Italy and each weighed two tons. The lions crouched atop the gates, with their claws on a large serpent. Sometime after 1940, thieves misjudged the weight of the animals and the lions slipped while being hoisted. They fell onto the road and shattered into many pieces.

(See        http://susantaylorblock.com/2010/04/01/airlie-gardens-the-annex-landfall/     )


A portion of the Lion’s Gate, designed by John Russell Pope, architect of the Jefferson Memorial. (Photo by Susan Block)

Two mere 400-pound freestanding lions from the Bungalow disappeared from the lodge, sometime in the 1940s. School students placed them on the lawn of a Board of Education employee as a Halloween trick. Later, they were moved to City Hall, where they sat until someone complained they were not of proportionate height for the building. Their next home was the Kiddie Zoo, across South Third Street from the Greenfield Lake overflow. Eventually, vandals hit again, pulverizing one of the concrete animals. It is not known what happened to the other.


Long Beach resident Mary Ann Bolduc and a Landfall lion, at the Kiddie Zoo, September 1966. (Star News photo. Ruffin Collection, Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)


   ******************************************************************************************************************************************* “The outside of the building (Bungalow) is what fascinated me – the lions and the gold fish that were big as flounders.” – Longtime Wrightsville     Sound resident Lossie Gardell, in an interview conducted in 2000. 


A portion of the Bungalow. (Photo by Hugh Morton)


William and Henry Walters, The Reticent Collectors, by William R. Johnston.

Land of the Golden River: Old Times on the Seacoast, by Lewis Philip Hall.

Airlie: The Garden of Wilmington, available at the Airlie Gift Shop.  (All proceeds go the Airlie Foundation)


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Camellia and Rosemary


Photo by Susan Taylor Block.

Shot without a flash – only the light of sunset shafting through a darkish hall. (Click to magnify.)

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Along the Cape Fear: A New Identification

by Susan Taylor Block

Cover image is housed at Cape Fear Museum.

The process of identifying old photographs is an ongoing and exciting activity. It’s gratifying to pair names and faces in pictures that lack labels, and more so when the images are quite old. The cover photo of Along the Cape Fear has fascinated me since the book was published in 1998. It was taken at Lilliput Plantation, in Winnabow, NC, and was donated to Cape Fear Museum with only one identification, Eric Norden.

Photographer Eric Norden took this photograph of the rice fields at Orton Plantation. (Cape Fear Museum)

Norden is the man on the right. He was a surveyor who drew plats of many properties in town and along the river, as well as Hugh MacRae’s colonization projects. He amassed one of North Carolina’s finest collections of rare books that included 16th century titles, most of which were lost in a 1939 house fire. In 1902, about the time the cover photo was taken, he presided over the Wilmington Camera Club, All three men have a seriousness about them that made me continue to wonder who the two on the left were. I happened upon the identity of the middle man in 1999, when I saw him on the cover of another book: The Jiangyin Mission Station, by Lawrence Kessler. He is Dr. George Worth, a Wilmington native who spent most of his life as a Presbyterian medical missionary in China. Dr. Worth was on furlough in 1902, when he served as vice-president of  the Wilmington Camera Club.

The Jiangyin Mission Station cover features images of Dr. George Worth, wife Emma Chadbourn Worth, and son William, about 1896.

Like the others, the man on the left is playing for no audience, and seems too well-dressed to be standing in the midst of an overgrown plantation. Blood courses through his hand as he stares, almost glares, into the lens. His face stayed with me. One day I thought I finally had found a youthful match for him in a collection of McKoy family photos, but I could not be 100% sure.

William Berry McKoy, at age 16. (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)

Yesterday, while viewing photos posted by the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear, I saw another McKoy photo that made me entirely sure the man on the left is William Berry McKoy (1852-1928). He was a Princeton graduate  and a title attorney, who collaborated with surveyor Norden. McKoy was prominent in local democratic politics and freemasonry. In 1886, he married Katherine Bacon McKoy, who was the daughter of Henry Bacon, U.S. Engineer for the damming projects at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Her brothers were Lincoln Memorial architect Henry Bacon; and archaeologist and furniture designer Francis Bacon.

William Berry McKoy, (on left) about 1924. (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)

McKoy gathered information on Cape Fear River properties as early as 1881, when he delivered a lecture entitled, “Early Settlements on the Cape Fear, and the History of Old Brunswick,” to the Wilmington Historical and Scientific Society – an organization he founded. McKoy compiled history about many other local sites as well, and some of his work is included in Chronicles of the Cape Fear River, by James Sprunt – owner of Lilliput and adjoining plantations, Kendal and Orton.

In 1887, William Berry McKoy built the McKoy House at 402 South Third Street. James F. Post served as architect, and Alfred Howe was the builder. Architectural historian Tony Wrenn called the house, “Wilmington’s best representative of the Stick style and a first-rate example for any area.” Ironically, William’s brother-in-law, Henry Bacon (1866-1924), merely 21 in 1887, would design another house on the same street, but for an unrelated family – the MacRaes. The Donald MacRae House at 25 South Third Street, known today as the Ann Moore Bacon Church House, was built in 1901.

The William Berry McKoy House at 402 South Third Street.

As late as 1917, fifteen years after the Along the Cape Fear cover photo was taken, William McKoy was still interested in the picturesque, history laden area of Winnabow. He requested James Sprunt allow him, accompanied again by Eric Norden, to visit Orton Plantation and St. Phillip’s Church.

St. Philip’s Church, Brunswick Town. (Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear)

“We have just moved up to town for the season,” replied Sprunt. “I think I could arrange to go down with you, however, or certainly to send you from Orton in a conveyance to the Old Church. … I may be able to go down in my own boat and bring you back in good time in the afternoon.”

With all the identifications in place, the photograph takes on a strong Presbyterian slant, and the connections become clearer. William McKoy and Eric Norden were members of First Presbyterian Church, as was James Sprunt, who was known locally, even internationally, for his generosity to Presbyterian causes. Dr. Worth was a member of First Presbyterian before moving to China. Almost wholly, Sprunt and First Presbyterian Church supported Dr. Worth and his family in their missionary work. Princeton, founded by Presbyterians, played into the picture, too, with James Sprunt’s son, Laurence, following McKoy there, two decades later. James Sprunt was close to First Presbyterian Church minister Dr. Joseph Wilson, whose own son, Woodrow Wilson, taught at Princeton. Sprunt gave substantial financial support to the school.

First Presbyterian Church, dedicated in 1861, burned New Year’s Eve, 1925. Designed by Samuel Sloan, who also served as architect of the N.C. Governor’s Mansion. (Cape Fear Museum)

The Knox tie did truly bind during James Sprunt’s lifetime. His guest lists were heavy with other Presbyterians of Scottish descent. Like most of their church peers, the three Presbyterian cover-men were modest people who would have been uncomfortable in any sort of spotlight, no matter how dim. They were the sort of people who would have taken the lowliest seat at the table. It is interesting that images of William McKoy and Eric Norden landed on the cover of one book, and Dr. Worth is featured on two.

Sources:  Bill Reaves Collection, New Hanover County Public Library; Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear; Cape Fear Museum Library; Perkins Library, Duke University; James Sprunt, Chronicles of the Cape Fear River. Tony Wrenn, Wilmington, North Carolina: An Architectural and Historical Portrait. Susan Taylor Block: Along the Cape Fear. Author’s nterview, December 30, 2012, with Elisita McKoy McCauley.

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Oysters Roasted

by Susan Taylor Block

How my eyes do fill with moisture

When I contemplate the oyster:

A hapless piece of mollusk meat

That everyone just loves to eat.


A feasibility study

Would’ve come back muddy:

“Hazardous to open the shell.

They’re ugly, and, oh, how they smell.”


I’ve been to roasts throughout my life,

And even have an oyster knife,

But I just sit and watch the show

Of oyster eaters, row on row.


They pry and shuck and gobble down,

Sometimes with a tiny frown.

They’re in no mood to talk or hear,

But just to wolf those oysters dear.


Ingested in an eight-month season,

Their attraction’s without reason:

It’s gritty food that cavemen ate,

We might just call it “people bait.”


So, someone, somewhere should aspire

To breed a new hit in the mire

That draws the ladies and the gents

And earns them soon a lot of cents.


(Copyright 2012)

Image from:  www.richmond.com

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The Hills of Queen Street

by Susan Taylor Block

Our family is thankful to have many photos from the past. They represent various branches and are exhibited online as the Hill-Taylor Collection. The Hills, my mother’s father’s “people,” were good at leaving an interesting and varied trail of images. A fraction of their story is told in this article with photographs, documents, news clippings, paintings, and handwritten genealogical documents.

Owen Canady Hill, about 1900. (Photo by J. J. Burnett, Wilmington. Hill-Taylor Collection)

Owen Canady Hill, my great-grandfather, was born August 18, 1839. He died September 1, 1904, after years of suffering from Civil War wounds. Owen was born in Wilmington, at Monk Barns, an 18th-century house on Greenville Sound where the family worked as tenant farmers. Before that, they lived on “Topsail Sound,” where, in 1737, another Owen Hill received a land grant to 640 acres of land. Some of the Hills lived or moved to greener pastures in Duplin County, but Owen’s ancestors, for the most part, stayed in the same quiet little area where they farmed and enjoyed Stump Sound oysters and other famously good seafood. They marketed most of their seafood in Wilmington, and that required frequent trips to the seafood market that once sat in the intersection of 2nd and Market streets. Owen made this run many times during the economically challenging years that followed the Civil War.

During the Civil War, Owen Canady Hill served in Capt. James Metts’ Company G, Third North Carolina. He took part in the Seven Days’ Battle around Richmond, as well as battles at South Mountain, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Payne’s Farm and Gettysburg. He was taken prisoner at Sharpsburg for almost two months; wounded at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Payne’s Farm. He was imprisoned at Spottsylvania; then imprisoned again, at Elmira, New York. He was released June 23, 1865, and walked back to North Carolina. Shrapnel scattered throughout his body sometimes made him feel as if he was on fire.

Owen split his time between Onslow County, where he kept a home at Stump Sound, and Wilmington where he set up a grocery store and blacksmith shop in Dry Pond. His Wilmington house sat on the northeast corner of Sixth and Queen streets. From 1867 to 1886, Owen and wife Mary Elizabeth Taylor Hill, a fellow Onslow County native, had eight children: Rebecca Ann, John Thomas, James Richard, Mary Ida, Martha Ann, Marion Owen, Oscar Claude, and Grover William. This essay will follow only the line of James Richard Hill.

Mary Elizabeth Taylor Hill, at 516 Queen Street, about 1903. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

The Primitive Baptist Church, on Castle Street. (Photo by Susan Block)

This interior shot of Church of the Good Shepherd, designed by architect Hobart Upjohn, was taken by a Hill family member shortly after the building was completed in 1912. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Here, Hill family members and friends loll near the banks of the Cape Fear River. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

The Hills went to several different churches, including Fifth Avenue Methodist, the Primitive Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, and, most conveniently, Church of the Good Shepherd, at 6th and Queen streets. Good Shepherd might have won them all, if one senior member of the Hill family had not taken great exception to a line in the Nicene Creed. Firmly Protestant, and unaware that the word “Catholic,” in lower case, means universal and all-inclusive, the elderly woman nearly fainted when the congregation read in unison from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

Owen and Mary’s children were educated in public schools. Their youngest child, Grover (1886-1941), my grandfather, went to UNC. Most of the others worked as seamstresses or tradesmen, except for Oscar Claude (1881-1949), who was longtime Superintendent of Mails for the Wilmington Post office, and also supervised the Camp Davis, Fort Fisher, and the Bluethenthal postal centers. Oscar, James, and all four of their sisters lived in various Queen Street homes until their deaths. None of the sisters married, nor did Marion.

The 1906 School of Pharmacy at UNC. Grover Hill is sitting in front of the center column, on left. (NC Collection, UNC)

Ella Scott Hill, wife of James, daughter-in-law of Owen Hill, and mother of Pearl and Jimmy - about 1899. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Pearl and Jimmy Hill, about 1904. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

The gallery continues:

Pearl married Richard Boone:

Pearl Hill, born in 1903, at the corner of 6th and Queen streets, about 1923. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Richard Boone at a typesetting machine in Wilmington, NC. He typeset for newspapers and book productions like "Blackie Bear." (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Pearl took painting lessons in Wilmington, from teacher Emma Lossen. Pearl exhibited her paintings at the Cottage Lane Art Show, an Azalea Festival event, and at the Sorosis Building, various art shows at St. James Episcopal Church, and other events.

Pearl's painting of a New England scene was exhibited on Cottage Lane, about 1954. (Hill-Taylor Collection)

Pearl's painting of Greenfield Lake, about 1954. (Susan Taylor Block)


A portrait of Pearl’s only child, Martha, painted by Emma Lossen.

Martha Boone McAllister, 1951. Painted by Emma Lossen. (Susan Taylor Block)


Jimmy Hill, Pearl’s unmarried brother, was a professional stand-up comedian and clown. He worked in theaters in various states, especially Ohio and North and South Carolina.

Jimmy Hill, Pearl's brother, born in 1901.

This illustrated essay ends with a rare photo of Wilmington from the Hill family albums. It dates to about 1907 and is rich in content, showing the old Cape Fear River ferry that was operated by the Joneses, an African-American family that still calls Brunswick County home. Also displayed are the many buildings that were razed before the U. S. Custom House was constructed, beginning in 1916.

Wilmington, about 1907. (Acknowledge as susantaylorblock.com)


Hill Genealogy:

Somehow, the leather binding of the 1831 Hill family Bible is still intact, even if the title page is a bit crumpled. Just in terms of hurricanes, it is quite a survivor.

Records that were saved within it follow:




Related:    http://susantaylorblock.com/2011/01/10/dry-pond/         http://susantaylorblock.com/2012/11/05/monkey-business/



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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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