Monday, December 29, 2014

"a full blaze of illumination"

or, New Bern throws a party

 By John B. Green III

Edward Graham House, 300 block Broad Street, south side, photo c. 1890.
Any item which documents how New Bernians publicly celebrated holidays, elections, and other community-wide observances is always of interest.  It is exciting, therefore, to discover a letter written from New Bern in 1824 which describes a major town celebration in honor of the return of the Marquis de LaFayette to the United States.  The letter records the use of candles in windows, bonfires, cannon volleys, music, and processions through the streets - a lively time indeed.

LaFayette, one-time aide to George Washington and one of the last survivors of the Revolutionary War officer corps, had arrived in New York on August 15, 1824 for a nostalgic tour of the United States.  Although he would not reach North Carolina until February 1825 (and would never come to New Bern!) the town decided to have a grand celebration upon receiving news of his arrival in the country.

The author of the letter was Edward Graham (c.1764-1833) a prominent New Bern attorney and court official who had constructed a large and imposing residence on Broad Street c. 1817-1818.  A contemporary described Graham as holding a "prominent rank at the bar" and maintaining "a very fashionable style of living."  Graham wrote the letter to his daughter Betty (Elizabeth) who later married John P. Daves.  The location of the original letter is unknown.  Fortunately, it was published in the New Bern Daily Journal on August 24, 1890.  This is the source for the text reprinted below.

Newbern, August 24th, 1824
Tuesday, 9 at night.

Dear daughter: - We had a meeting of the Corporation of the City, and an Assembly of our citizens this morning, to consult as to what was proper to be done by way of manifesting our joy and giving token of gratitude and welcome for the arrival of the illustrious La Fayette once more to our shores; and loud and merry peals.  Every house in our city is in a full blaze of illumination, our artillery vomiting forth their thundering volcanoes and bonfires of tar barrels in every street.  The windows of many of the houses display beautiful transparencies, with emblematic devices, historical illusions, and appropriate poetical effusions, while our streets are alive with "black spirits and white," all ages, sexes and ranks moving in succession in all quarters of the city, with various bands of musick, our whole orchestra, playing through the streets our best national and patriotic airs.  You need not be told that I would not let such an opportunity escape me of making a display, the occasion called me out.  I was determined to let all know that, deserted and sad as was the mansion's daily appearance, now that you are absent, there was still a master spirit there; so I displayed a candle in every individual pane of glass in the house, even my front door "fan lights" showed 3 brilliant coloured lights in festoon.  "Vat you tink of she?"  Meantime I mounted my horse and rode through our streets, and, as might very naturally have been expected, at the explosion of every great gun, I was within an ace of exchanging my seat in the saddle for a plunge in the mud, - you know Lengthy is sometimes a willful beast, and will have his way.  No Madam! you are altogether mistaken in your rebukes.  I did not go and leave the house at the mercy of 200 burning candles distributed in every part of it, for I stationed one of your faithful Janizaries in every room to watch and trim the lights, and not to depart therefrom, on pain of death, until I should return;  and I had every reason to believe that each one of them executed his or her appointment with fidelity no less honourable to themselves, than it was satisfactory to me.

The lights now are fast disappearing.  Mrs. Simpson doused her's first in the neighborhood, and my light extinguishers are doing their best while I write, to "leave the world to darkness and to me," with General Serena at the head of them.  Dismiss your uneasiness, my over anxious Madam!  By tomorrow's dawn your whole force shall again appear on parade armed with soap, lye and sand, and wash away every stain or scorch that grease or flame could leave.

Good night Betty!  Would that with the benediction I could have the accustomed parting kiss from you.  And then Jane, and that indefatigable traveller, my good old - , Confound the kettle drums, fifes, flutes, fiddles, clarionettes, horns and huzzas, I can't get on for them!  Tell Jane that I am sensible I am in her debt for her last letter, she will excuse me for reading it to Mr. Attmore, when you tell her the handsome compliment he paid it: "If anything could reconcile one to the loss of Miss Jane's company, it would be such letters."  Could Chesterfield have done better?

Your affectionate father,
Edward Graham.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Vanished New Bern, No. 11

a series of views of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

The Edward Graham House

Edward Graham House, 300 block Broad Street, south side, photo c. 1890.
This large hip-roofed Federal-period residence once stood on the south side of the 300 block of Broad Street.  It was the home of Edward Graham, prominent New Bern attorney and government official.  Representing the enlargement of an earlier structure, the house probably attained the size and form seen above between 1817 and 1818 when the tax value for Graham's properties increased from $1,100 to $3,950.  The house featured a pedimented front doorway similar to that seen on the Bank of New Bern which was constructed about the same time.  Edward Graham died in 1833 leaving the house to his widow Elizabeth Batchelor Graham.  It eventually passed to their daughter Elizabeth Graham Daves (Mrs. John P.) who lived in the house until her death in 1885.  The property was acquired by James B. Blades in August 1906.  He had the Graham House demolished the following January in preparation for the construction of his large Colonial-Revival style home.  Blades' house would eventually become the Queen Anne Hotel and would be demolished in the late 1960s.  The site is now occupied by First Citizens Bank.

300 Block Broad Street, photo c. 1890. Edward Graham House at far right of image.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Peace on Earth

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Pamlico, New Bern waterfront, decorated for Christmas 1936. National Archives photo.

Merry Christmas from the Kellenberger Room

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas 1938

A slow recovery and trouble overseas. 

Sound familiar?

By John B. Green III

Christmas parade, 300 block Middle Street, 9 December 1938.
At home, the Great Depression was in its ninth year.  Abroad, military dictatorships in Germany, Italy, and Japan threatened the peace and stability of the entire world.  There wasn't much reason to be optimistic. 

And yet, Christmas was coming.  Perhaps a parade, complete with Santa Claus, would cheer people up and, for that matter, stimulate sales.  New Bern had been staging these parades for a number of years - Why stop now?

The Sun-Journal reported on Wednesday, December 7th, that Santa had accepted the invitation extended by the New Bern Merchants Association and would arrive on Friday the 9th at 4 o'clock.  Flying directly from the North Pole, he would enter the city on George Street and be escorted by North Carolina Highway Patrolmen to Broad Street where he would be officially welcomed by Mayor W.C. Chadwick.  The route of the parade would be George Street to Broad Street, then Broad Street to Middle Street, down Middle to South Front Street, along South Front Street to Craven Street, then back up Craven Street to Broad where Santa would take his leave of the city and return to the North Pole.

On the great day, Santa entered the city on a huge toy-laden sled decorated with blue stars and spangles [the sled had been constructed locally by Robert Simms of New Bern].  More than 5,000 people lined the parade route.  First came North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. George C. Bissette in a patrol car "with the siren going full blast," followed by the Greenville band.  Mayor Chadwick and Chief of Police Ed Belangia came next in the official car.  Then came Santa and his sled escorted on either side by Boy Scouts from Troop 13, B.M. Potter, Scoutmaster.  Santa was followed by another patrol car and dozens of boys on bicycles and on foot.  The parade ended back on Broad Street where "Santa dashed back to his home at the North Pole."  Afterwards, it was reported that "the local stores were thronged and merchants enjoyed a rushing business."

And that's how Old Saint Nick cheered New Bernians in the troubled year of 1938 (and gave the local merchants a Merry Christmas too!).

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Dreaming of a White Christmas

or, Who says it never snows in New Bern?

By John B. Green III

R.D. Baskervill pulling his children on a home-made sled, 400 block Middle Street, December 1958.  Smaller child is your blogger's future wife Jane Gibbs Baskervill, aged three.
For those of you who have moved here from the desolate and frozen wastes of the North and who maintain that it never really snows in New Bern, these photographs are offered as evidence to the contrary.  In the top photo, the man who appears to be a survivor of an ill-fated polar expedition is, in fact, my wife's father Robert D. Baskervill pulling his two children on a sled he made for the occasion.  A three-year-old Jane appears with her big brother Bob on the sled.  This photo was published on the front page of the New Bern Mirror, December 19, 1958.  The bottom photo is of my two-year-old self being held by my father John B. Green, Jr. in front of our house on Kennedy Avenue.

Your blogger, aged two, and his father John B. Green, Jr., Kennedy Avenue, December 1958.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Cowboy and the Congressman

or, how Will Rogers riled up a small Southern town

By John B. Green III

Will Rogers
It's hard for people today to understand just how popular and influential Will Rogers was in Depression-era America.  Vaudeville and movie star, writer and humorous political commentator - his was the voice of the common man.  Always on the prowl for government waste and extravagance, in August 1933 he latched onto the cost of the new Federal building in New Bern.  Making it a subject
Congressman Charles L. Abernathy
of one of his national newspaper columns, he lambasted local resident and congressman Charles L. Abernathy who had secured the funding for the new courthouse and post office.  Although his humorous criticism of Abernathy was biting, it was his skewering of New Bern and its importance, or lack thereof, that ruffled the feathers of many a proud and loyal resident.  The resulting whirlwind of letters caused Rogers to write a second column which he may have intended as an apology but which fell considerably short of the mark.

Artist's rendering, proposed U.S. Courthouse and Pst Office, New Bern, N.C.
The first column appeared August 27, 1933. 

I thought I had prowled the width and breadth of that wonderfully progressive state of North Carolina.  Their citizens have been mighty good to me in time of need.  I have sold 'em a mighty poor grade of jokes, but which they always seemed to accept either out of sheer generosity, or simply because they had nowhere else to go.  They always patronized my single hand endeavours most bountifully, and how I ever overlooked a town that would demand a mail structure costing $260, 249! Well it just shows that I evidently overlooked the metropolis of that fine old state.  This name may hit you too as rather unique as your thoughts.  Go to a roster of North Carolina citadels.  It's New Bern, N.C.  I repeat that, New Bern.

Now I can tell by my mail, there is an awful lot of people that like to write letters for no reason at all, and they seem to be in doubt as to who to write to, so I will ask anyone in that state of mental incapacity to please write to New Bern , N.C.  I hate to see a $260, 249 post office not be slightly used anyhow.  Now naturally the town (or city rather) being new to you, you won't know who to write to.  Well in that case I would write to their Congressman.  I don't know his name now, but he will become famous in a very short time, for he will no doubt have the capitol at Washington moved there.  So just write and compliment this Congressman, and if North Carolina don't properly appreciate him, Claremore Oklahoma, hereby make him an offer.  Why with him as our representative, and a town the size of Claremore, we could have gotten a million dollar P.O., a three quarter million bucks Passell post shack, a quarentine dipping vat, and a two hundred thousand smackers comfort station.

The reaction was swift and predictable.

New Bern Tribune, 29 August 1933

Sun-Journal, 29 August 1933

New Bern's newspaper editors replied with good-natured wit, declaring that the "sage of Claremore" and the "gum-chewing cowboy" was sadly misinformed as to the need of such a building in the town and then reported that numerous citizens had extended invitations to Rogers to visit New Bern.  They had also supplied Rogers with the name and address of Congressman Abernathy since Rogers seemed unable to gather this information on his own.  The best response came from New Bern alderman John F. Rhodes, Jr., whose message to Rogers was reprinted on the front page of the New Bern Tribune.

New Bern Tribune, 29 August 1933

A second and longer column by Rogers was published September 17, 1933.

Well, sir, I like to be confused about a town or place, and ask about it.  For every guy that lives within coon dog sound will send in his historical version of the place.  New Bern, N.C. (or is it just South Carolina?)  Well, I wrote a few weeks ago about 'em getting a Post Office costing $260,000.  Well, that will house an awful lot of chain letters and oil prospectuses, and I figured the boys had had something on the Democrats in Washington, and reached in and got quite a whack of loot money.  And I complimented their Congressman.  I figured that he was a man that Al Capone could use some time.  But now after cotton sacks full of mail, I find I have libeled New Bern, (either North or South Carolina).  It's an old historical town, and if I printed all these letters it would be more historical, for it's got more different kinds of early history that Greta Garbo.

There is two things you musent stir up, one is a gentle looking old Jersey Bull, and the other is a southern historian.  Now I am not belittling 'em, for I come from below that corn pone and chitlin belt myself.  But every one of us write our own history.  If it sounds better the way we want it than the way it might have been why that don't stop us any more than an amber light.  So don't send me any more historical sketches of New Bern.  All I want to know was it settled by Columbus and the Italians, Columbus and the Spaniards or Al Smith and Pocohontas.  Gov. William Tryon, who was called by my people "The wolf of Carolina," well if he mistreated the Cherokees he goes right in the dog house with Andrew Jackson with me.  One historian says he took all the money and built a palace there.  This looks like this old boy left some descendants there.  They claimed he kinder turned his lady friends loose on reluctant tax payers.

Now here is an awful nice one from the Congressman who brought home the bacon.  Charles L. Abernathy, the modern Tryon.  He don't give much history.  He brought home concrete.  He does however say it was settled by the Swiss, who brought Hill Billy yodeling to America.  Well if that fact had come out that they was responsible for this yowling over the radio, New Bern wouldent have gotten an R.F.D. box.

Now let's see what the next historian sicks onto us.  "New Bern was settled by Baron De Graftenreid."  See how history will repeat itself, "Graftenreid?"  There was a promoter who was honest enough to go under his right name.  Now here is another one.  I knew this had to come.  It's almost impossible to have a town in the south, if it's got a school teacher at all, without somebody calling "The Athens of the South."  And sure nuff they did.  Here is another thing I knew was coming, and bet you readers guessed it too.  Yep, "Washington stayed all night there."  Here is another collosal blow to it.  The first Provisional Congress assembled."  So that's the town we been looking for that started Congress.  Well, that's all we want to know.  But here is where he squares it all.  It's where Sam Houston met a Cherokee girl named Rogers,  That was my great, great, great, great Aunt.  But you all want to look this little eastern seaport of North Carolina up.  I doubt if they need a post office, but brothers it is mangy with history.  There was a lot of things took place there before the Revolution, it was the Hollywood of its day.  But don't write and tell me any more about it.  I know more about it now than anybody in North Carolina.

What Will Rogers probably didn't know was that New Bern had been struck on the previous day by the great Hurricane of 1933.  While distracted by the worst flooding and wind damage in generations, New Bernians were still able to respond to the columnist.

New Bern Tribune, 19 September 1933

Sun-Journal, 19 September 1933

They seemed to conclude that Rogers had thrown in the towel and that, with all the free publicity, it was time to declare victory.  Will Rogers never did come to New Bern but the story of how he insulted the town, the post office, and the congressman was remembered and retold for years.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vanished New Bern, No. 10

a series of views of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

John Wright Stanly House dependencies

John Wright Stanly House dependency at right of image, photo from Nellie M. Rowe, Discovering North Carolina, 1933.
After having been moved twice, the John Wright Stanly House now sits on a lot that is only a fraction of the size of its original grounds.  As a part of the Tryon Palace historic site on George Street, it is toured by thousands each year.  Few of those thousands are aware that the house once possessed two large flanking outbuildings or dependencies on its original site.  The grounds of the John Wright Stanly House (constructed c. 1779 - 1783) once covered half a city block between Middle and Hancock streetsThe house faced Middle Street flanked by the dependencies.  The larger of the two sat to the north of the house and faced New Street.  Colonel John D. Whitford, New Bern's 19th century historian, identified the building as Congressman John Stanly, Jr.'s law office, although at the time of his writing (1882) it had been occupied as a dwelling for a number of years.  The site of the Stanly house and its dependencies was sold to the federal government in 1932 for the construction of a new courthouse and post office.  The main house was moved onto the rear portion of its grounds and turned to face New Street. The smaller dependency which had stood to the south of the Stanly house was also moved at this time and placed behind the main house.  Following a long-standing New Bern tradition of moving and reusing discarded buildings, John Stanly's old law office was given to Judge R.A. Nunn who dismantled the structure and used the material in the construction of a new building outside of town.  This building was later destroyed by fire.

Surviving dependency being moved to George Street, 1966.
In 1966 the John Wright Stanly House, after having served as the town library for thirty years, was given to the Tryon Palace Commission.  The house and the smaller surviving dependency were moved to George Street to become part of the Tryon Palace historic site.  While the main house was restored at great expense, it was determined that there was no room and no use for the smaller dependency and it was unceremoniously demolished.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Martha Royal

a voice from the past

By John B. Green III

Martha Royal and her vegetable perambulator, 1939.

All agreed - Martha Royal was loud.  In sheer volume and carrying power, her early morning street cries were overwhelming and inescapable.  Martha was a street vendor of fresh fruits and vegetables and her sing-song chants advertized her wares and her presence.  In a time and place when such street peddlers were common, Martha Royal out-sang and outlasted her competition, and in the process, became a beloved figure in New Bern.

Street vendors had existed in New Bern and elsewhere since the earliest days.  By the time the local and state press began to take note of Martha in the 1920s and 1930s, however, such vendors were a dying breed, edged out by grocery store chains and noise ordinances.

"Aunt Letty" street vendor, New Bern, from a postcard c.1910.
Street vendors often called attention to themselves by chants which named the items being sold and their most attractive qualities: fresh, ripe, sweet, cheap.  Carl Goerch, writing about Martha Royal in a 1939 issue of The State magazine, attempted to capture one of Martha's chants in print:

Heah yo' niiice, fraish caab-bages.
Gyarden peas, spring inyans, corrn!
Sweet pota-toses, ahish pota-toses.
Green peppers, stringbeans, carrots
Collards an' riiipe toma-toses.

Oyster vendor in front of the Harris House, 718 Pollock St, c. 1920.
Martha Franks Royal (or Royall) was born October 18, 1867, the daughter of Thomas and Rosalyn Franks.  She married D.C. Royal in 1904.  D.C. Royal's occupation was variously listed in city directories and census records as cook, mill hand, lumber grader, and driver.  He was listed as a grocer in 1914.  His brief death notice in May 1915 described Royal as a peddler.  It may have been her experience assisting her husband as a grocer and later as a peddler that led Martha to become a street vendor in her widowhood.  The 1920 federal census, when Martha Royal would have been fifty-three years old, lists her occupation as peddler on the public streets.  A daughter and granddaughter were living with her.  She is listed in the 1930 census as a huckster - another name for a peddler. 

How or why Martha became so well known and well liked is not known.  Her reputation appears to have been established by 1929 when she first received notice in the local newspaper.  In that year New Bern staged an historical celebration and pageant which included a night-time, costumed play detailing the history of the town.  Someone thought to include Martha in a village scene and she promptly stole the show.

New Bernian, Wednesday, 12 June 1929, 1:2.
This episode would be recounted in later articles.  The 1939 State magazine article related that when the crowd realized that Martha was the vegetable vender in the play (they had recognized her voice long before the spotlight fell upon her) they roared their appreciation.  Martha wove in and out among the actors with her pony and cart and regaled the crowd with her usual high-volume cries.

Unidentified street vendor with pony and cart, possibly Martha Royall, photo c. 1929 from a scrapbook of the 1929 New Bern historical pageant compiled by a member of the Smallwood family.

The 1939 article indicated that age was beginning to slow Martha down and that it might not be too long before she would have to retire.  At some point her pony died and she replaced his cart with a second-hand baby buggy.  By the time a similar article appeared in the local newspaper in July 1940, Martha's vegetable vending was referred to in the past tense.  The 1940 census lists no occupation for Martha but shows her household as including two lodgers.

Martha Franks Royal died at the home of her daughter in Brooklyn, New York on April 24, 1957, in her 89th year.  Her body was returned to New Bern and, after services at West Street Christian Church, was interred beside her late husband in Greenwood Cemetery.

Martha Royal's resting place, Greenwood Cemetery, New Bern, NC.

In 1973, a local newspaperman, recalling his childhood memories of Martha, wrote the following:

It isn't easy to remember how some folks looked in life, even a few short years after their death.  Not so with Martha.  Many moons have passed since the Sweet Chariot swung low for to carry her home, but her image remains.

Most of us knew little, if anything, about her background.  To this day the Mirror's editor doesn't know where she lived, or even if she had children.  Certainly she loved those of us who were young.

Strangely, she never seemed to grow old, not in the eyes of us kids.  Perhaps adults detected a slower pace, as Father Time shadowed her cart, but we didn't take notice, until one morning she didn't come by.

New Bern wasn't quite the same after that.  No one took her special place among the street peddlers, or even tried to.  Some people in the world of ours are one of a kind.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Vanished New Bern, No. 9

a series of views of lost area buildings

By John B. Green III

Shepard-Nelson House

Shepard-Nelson House, northwest corner East Front and Broad streets, photo c. 1900.
In a recent post (By the Book, 11/3/2014) we referred to the Green-Guion House which appeared to have been based on a design by the prominent Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan.  While that design was taken from a book of building plans published by Sloan, three other New Bern buildings are known to have been designed by Sloan after he moved his practice to North Carolina in the 1870s.  Two still exist, the 1882-1884 Craven County Courthouse and the 1884 New Bern Graded School (Bell Building).  The third was the ca. 1883 Shepard-Nelson House which Sloan designed for wealthy widow Mary Spaight Donnell Shepard.  The elaborate Second Empire-style structure stood on the northwest corner of East Front and Broad streets and faced the Neuse River amid landscaped grounds.  It was later the property of Mrs. Shepard's daughter Mrs. Margaret Shepard Nelson who in 1919 sold the property to the Sudan Shriners for use as their headquarters.  It became known as The Shrine Home and served the organization until 1957.  It was later demolished to make way for a parking lot adjacent to the Shriners' new headquarters.

Shepard-Nelson House as the Shrine Home, photo c. 1950.