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Windows to the Past: September 15, 1963

The News & Observer 9/16/1963

Windows to the Past: March on Washington

The Raleigh Times 8/28/1963

Ambassador Theater saw better days


Seventy-five years ago today, ground was broken for Raleigh's new Ambassador Theater. Ambassador Josephus Daniels did the honors. The theater was a showplace for years, but it went the way of many downtown theaters in the 1970s, a fate worsened by the conversion of Fayetteville Street to a pedestrian mall.
On the eve of its 1989 demolition, former N&O writer Judy Bolch reminded readers of the theater's better days.
She was the Ambassador Theater, the last of Raleigh's old-time movie houses. She closed in June 1979 after years of declining health. But nobody ever got around to a funeral.
The lady's luck has run out.
Raleigh will be the only major North Carolina city that has lost all its downtown theaters.
The Ambassador never was a grande dame like the State, the 1924 Raleigh Vaudeville house/musical theater/cinema demolished two years ago. The ambassador was a flashy flirt, an example of the Art Deco design that was the last word in modern when she opened in 1938. In her glory days, she had 1,700 leather and chrome seats. She had rhinestone-trimmed curtains, golden doors, a curving chromium staircase and a 40,000-watt marquee called the brightest spot in the city.
Much of the Ambassador was lost long ago. The bulldozers will flatten an empty building where pigeon droppings are a foot deep. They will crush elaborate plaster trim hidden behind '60s renovations. They will demolish a theater that began its run with stars and closed with kung-fu movies.
But the spirit of the Ambassador lingers.
"We turn the lights out at night and still hear Elvis sing," says Richard W. Vanderpool, who directed the removal of asbestos in the theater.
Photo Courtesy NC State Archives
Passersby told him about Elvis Presley's stage appearance there in the 1950s, when both were still in their prime. They recalled "The Sound of Music," which had a year-long run there.
The Ambassador's curtains opened for the first time on Monday, Feb. 21, 1938, and the screen lit up with "Radio City Revels" starring Ann Miller. Bargain hour tickets were a quarter. Children could come any time for a dime.
The ambassador was built on the site of the historic Grand Theater, which had burned a decade earlier. She was named for Josephus Daniels, who had been editor and publisher of The News and Observer and ambassador to Mexico.
"It was high class," says Nell J. Styron, a long-time Raleigh film-goer. "If your date wanted to make an impression, he took you to the Ambassador."
The Ambassador was Raleigh's A movie house, a "theee-ate-tah" as Mrs. Styron calls it. For years, popcorn was banned from its elegant interior. Only first-run movies played there, and the feature changed twice a week. The theater's own artist turned out original posters to advertise the films.
Male moviegoers wore coat and tie; women donned their Sunday best. The ushers had blue gray Eton jackets with double rows of buttons. 
Patrons never waited for the start of a movie. They walked in when they arrived; they saw the end of one show and the beginning of the next. Sometimes they sat there all day, seeing the same movie again and again. - The News & Observer, 7/5/1989

Day of infamy


On the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, N&O writer Treva Jones spoke to Triangle residents who remembered the events of Sunday morning and how they learned the news.
It started as a typical Sunday afternoon in North Carolina 50 years ago. People had gotten home from church. Most had finished Sunday dinner.
In Raleigh, 4,000 people were in Memorial Auditorium for a performance of Handel's "The Messiah." But even as the choir sang, the world was changing forever.
Max Snipes was taking a spin in Chapel Hill when he heard the stunning news -- the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor.
"I was riding down Franklin Street, at the Graham Memorial building, and I heard it on my car radio. I was just shocked, " said Snipes, 85, a retired barber.
For a generation of Americans the sneak attack is frozen in time. They all know where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news on Dec. 7, 1941.



A.C. Snow, columnist and former editor of The Raleigh Times, wrote in 1968 about the 50th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I.
Fifty years ago this morning, three Raleigh men stood on a hill overlooking the plains in Metz, France. 
Their ears were ringing from the bombardment of a night's artillery barrage.
Precisely at 11 a. m., 50 years ago, the world's greatest silence settled over the hills and the plains. And then, as in the case of all wars that end, all hell -- of the happiness kind -- broke loose.
World War I. It was a war 50 years ago. The first big war, it was a war to end war, to make the world safe for democracy. It was the first of the big wars in a long time.
"We knew the night before the war was to end at 11 o'clock the next morning," recalls William Y. Collie, local real estate executive.
"I was at an observation post overlooking the plains outside Metz in Alsace-Lorraine. "I was to look for a signal from the infantry for another barrage from our guns. Our artillery had been very busy during the night.
"At precisely 11 o'clock, everything stopped. There was a great stillness. Then everyone started yelling. We ran forward to meet the Germans to exchange souvenirs."
Collie traded a package of cigarettes to a German for his cigarette lighter. "He seemed to be as happy as I was."
Collie was 18 at the time, a freshman at the University of North Carolina, where another member of his outfit, the 113th Field Artillery, was a sophomore. All members of the 113th were volunteers.
Earl Johnson, insurance executive, ... was in Samur, France when the French went wild in celebration at the armistice
"Most everybody volunteered that I know," recalls Johnson. "We didn't burn draft cards in those days. We didn't have draft cards."
"World War I was a different kind of war than the kind we know today.
"The infantry really had it rough," he said. "They lived in trenches knee deep in water with rats for company."
He said there probably was less body contact then than in more recent wars.
"Mostly it was just out of the trenches, over the top and shooting it out with the Germans for the next line of trenches."
"You could have heard a pin drop," said E.M. (Skinny) Taylor of Commercial Printing Company here.
"We were in position to back up the infantry and we were headed for Metz 15 miles away. We had camped out in the woods all night," said Taylor. "I understand that some of the boys up in the trenches were ordered over the top that morning and many of them died."
Taylor and Col. William T. Joyner, local attorney, were together during much of the War.
World War I was a vivid contrast to later wars, Colonel Joyner notes.
"It was mostly trench fighting. There was almost a complete absence of airplanes and there were very few tanks.
"Our 75 millimeter guns were pulled by horses -- six-horse teams. Officers and non-commissioned officers escorted them on horseback. We would go in support of the artillery and were from 200 yards to half a mile back of the enemy.
"I suppose you might say that World War I saw the end of the cavalry and the advent of the air force -- on a very limited basis."
Colonel Joyner said the planes were used primarily as aids in observations. They were used to protect observation posts and that's usually what the highly fictionalized dogfights in the air were about.
"The air balloon was unique to this war. It was used to spot artillery. Anchored to the ground, the balloon would carry a parachutist aloft. It was the object of the enemy aircraft to shoot down the balloon. If the observation man was lucky, he floated to earth safely in his parachute if the enemy pilot so chose."
Col. Gordon Smith of Raleigh fought in the trenches during World War I in Northern France.
He engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
"The English put a lot of emphasis on the bayonet," he recalled.
"You might say that the bayonet came of age then..."
Those 50 years later, the veterans still met downtown for coffee and remembrance.
... the raise their cups in a toast to peace -- if not in their time, at lest in some future generation's time.

Bringing the battleship home

Fifty years ago this week, the first of more than 10 million visitors boarded the newly docked USS North Carolina in its new home on the Wilmington riverfront.

Thanks to the efforts of Jimmy Craig and Hugh Morton, along with 700,000 school children across North Carolina, the battleship was saved from the scrapyard. Bringing it home, however, was no easy matter.

The move, originally scheduled for October 1, 1961, had to be delayed for a day because of the weather and problems with some of the tug boats.

At nearly 729 feet, the North Carolina  was the longest ship to navigate the river, which was only 500 feet wide at the time. Also, the ship drew 30 feet of water, and the channel was only 32 feet deep.

After 10 hours of intricate maneuvering with a fleet of tugs pushing and pulling, the huge, 35,000 ton battlewagon was edged into a slip here at 5:37 p.m.

Thousands of persons lined the Wilmington waterfront and had a grandstand view as the ticklish maneuver of edging the ship from the Cape Fear River into her slip was executed.

The bow of the North Carolina apparently went aground at one time during the move into the slip. The only other mishap to mar the big ship's final voyage came when gunmounts at the very end of her stern crunched into the topside of a floating restaurant, the Ark, moored at the end of Princess Street.

This was not the first time the Ark had been on the losing end of such an encounter.

On prominent display inside the restaurant has been a Navy submarine plaque in honor of the fact that the Ark some years ago was involved in the only recorded collision between a "man-of-war and a restaurant." The man-of-war was the Navy sub USS Crusher. -- The News & Observer 10/3/1961

The USS North Carolina's service in World War II included downing 24 planes, fighting in every major offensive in the Pacific, and earning 15 battle stars. Six times the Japanese reporting sinking it.

The Japanese couldn't sink the battleship, but a history book nearly did. In 1971, Sandy Bunn, a high school junior from Rocky Mount wrote to the staff of the Battleship Memorial, asking if the ship had been recovered or if the memorial was a replica. He had read in a library book, The Story of Submarines by George Weller that the USS North Carolina had been sunk.

Weller's book was published by Random House, Inc., as part of it "Landmark Books" for children in the middle grades of school. On page 121 it tells of submarine attacks sinking the battleship North Carolina and the cruiser Indianapolis.

But the North Carolina was never sunk, only damaged by a torpedo in September 1943, memorial officials said. The memorial organization reported it will set the record straight.

Meanwhile, Sandy was brought to the memorial to visit the battleship and see for himself that it is the real thing. -- The News & Observer 2/14/1971

Read more about the campaign to save the battleship.

See video about moving the USS North Carolina into Wilmington and read more about Sandy Bunn from Rocky Mount.


Clayton Price (left), a crewmember of the USS North Carolina during World War II, reassures Sandy Bunn of Rocky Mount that the ship is authentic. (File Photo)

Planetarium glee over new technology

As UNC's Morehead Planetarium decommissions its Zeiss VI projector and moves to digital technology, here's a look back at how excited the Planetarium was to install the state of the art instrument in the 1960s.

The Zeiss VI replaced another Zeiss projector which had been purchased by Mr. Morehead and installed in the 1930s.

The new instrument is being built now at the Zeiss factory in Oberkochen and will be delivered to Chapel Hill in the summer of 1968. Planetarium Director A. F. Jenzano was in Germany in June to look over the Mark VI prototype.

"Ours will be the first of the production model," said [Planetarium assistant manager Donald] Hall, "and hopefully bug-free.

"The new instrument simply will do everything better than the present one ... plus. The basic design for our instrument was finalized in the 1920s. In fact all Zeiss instruments through the Mark V relied on the same basic design. The Mark VI is the first basic change the company has made ..."

Features of the new projector included the ability to display small, blue-white, more realistic looking stars.

With the new instrument ... they will be able to demonstrate the proper motion of six stars for the first time -- something no Zeiss has ever done before.

"We're so far away from the stars that standing in our backyard we wouldn't notice any motion, unless we stood there for 50,000 years...."


Hall reports that also they will be able for the first time to show seven different kinds of lunar eclipses and 10 different kinds of solar eclipses, both automatically. Now eclipses are done by special effects projectors and the planetarium instrument is shut off.  -- The Raleigh Times 8/1/1966

Another feature of the new equipment was variable speed motors, which would improve orbital simulations for astronaut training. Astronaut training continued at Morehead until 1975.

See photos of the Zeiss Model VI star projector being disassembled.

Earthquake of 1886 felt throughout the state

When readers of The News and Observer opened their papers on the morning of September 1, 1886, they read about "A GREAT SHOCK."

The earthquake reported under the headline "The whole country in the grasp of an earthquake" had its center in Charleston, but was felt throughout North Carolina and beyond. By the next morning, the entire four pages of The News and Observer was devoted to earthquake coverage, including a dispatch from many NC towns, including this one from Chapel Hill:

The motion or motions of the earth caused great commotion hereabouts last night. The disturbance -- some counted six distinct shocks, between 9 50 and 10 45 -- seemed to come from the northwest. But observations on such occurrences, made by those not familiar with them, may be discordant. I am happy to say that "The Old South" still stands erect, and the wall of the well was not thrown down. But the boys emptied their rooms, and then made more fuss than was made for them; throughout the town women cried, neighbors ran to each other's houses, folks in bed were shaken up, looking glasses quivered, crockery rattled and philosophers were confounded. This morning some say they remember such a time years ago, others never felt so before and hope never to feel so again. -- The News & Observer 9/2/1886

The city of Charleston saw a great deal of damage, including 60 deaths and and estimated $5-$6 million in property damage.

An earthquake, such as has never before been known in the history of this city, swept over Charleston last night shortly after 10 o'clock, causing more loss of life than the cyclone of the year before. The city is wrecked, the streets are encumbered with masses of fallen brick and tangled telegraph and telephone wires. Up to an early hour it was almost impossible to pass from one part of the city to another. The first shock was by far the most severe. Most of the people, with their families, passed the night in the streets, which even this morning are crowded with people afraid to reenter their homes. -- The News & Observer 9/2/1886

Aid and concern poured in from all quarters, including a cable expressing sympathy from Queen Victoria.


Convicts sought after 1937 prison break

While the country was fascinated by the exploits of Bonnie and Clyde and other gangsters of the era, North Carolina had its share of outlaws and sensational crimes. In the summer of 1937, the state was on alert after eight convicts tunneled out of Central Prison.

Eight long-termers, believed to have been led by Worth (Tick) Proctor, notorious safe cracker, escaped from Central Prison late yesterday afternoon in the largest break at the prison in four years.

Commandeering a motorist's car half a mile from the prison, the convicts sped away and had nearly 3 hours' start before a general alarm was sent out by prison authorities.

After a long search of the prison yard, officials late last night said they had located a tunnel under a wall at the rear of the prison building. Apparently, it had taken the men weeks to dig the tunnel, Warden H. H. Honeycutt said.

A tri-State search was started for the felons, Oscar Pitts, acting director of the penal division announced last night.

A message from C. V. Faulkner, Sheriff of Nash county, said that an automobile, answering the description of the one stolen here, had hit another car at Rocky Mount about 8 o'clock, but did not stop. The car was headed for Elm City, home of Eddie Cobb, one of the fugitives.

The felons took the machine from R. C. Jones and Miss Lucille Woodlief, both State Hospital attendants, as they sat in the parked car in front of a building on the institution's grounds.

Jones said he recognized the men as escaped convicts by their rough clothing, although they were not wearing stripes. How the convicts procured Grade A clothes for their escape had not been determined last night.


All the men were long-termers and most of them regarded as dangerous.

Proctor has a criminal record of many years' standing and was serving terms totaling more than 30 years. He was an associate of the late Coley Cain, slain last year in a gun battle with a South Carolina officer who sought to recapture him after his escape from Caledonia.

Cobb, who is from Nash county was a member of the same ring of burglars and safe crackers. He was serving 30 years for possession of burglary tools, being sentenced from Wake County two years ago.

Other felons escaping with them were: James Everett, 21, alias James (Snake) Eberts, given seven to 10 years in Wake last year for assault and larceny; Carl McNinght, 24, sentenced from Forsyth County in 134 to 12 to 16 years for robbery; John H. Lowder, 29, of Mecklenburg county, serving five to seven years for robbery; Normal Hart, alias William Ralte, 29, sent up from Davidson for 15 to 20 years for robbery.

Upon receiving Jones' message, Raleigh police searched the Dix Hill section for the car, a 1934 black Ford coach, bearing North Carolina licenses 313-886. No trace of it was found.

It was Proctor's second escape from prison. Two years ago this month he made a successful break at Caledonia and remained at large for four months before being recaptured in Greensboro by Guilford County deputies.

The year before, he had been arrested at Rocky Mount, along with several members of his ring, when a posse of officials raided a hide-out there. Raleigh police joined officers from several counties and Federal agents in making arrests.

Above, NC Central prison in 1967. N&O File photo.


The break was the largest from Central Prison since April 22, 1933, when nine prisoners, headed by the notorious Dud Travis of Wake county, made their way to freedom through a tunnel while a ball game was in progress in the prison yard. All were recaptured.

On September 3, 1933, and March 20, 1934, two prisoners escaped by scaling walls after the manner of Dr. J. W. Peacock, the Thomasville murderer, who escaped while serving a life sentence in 1922 and made his way to California, where several years later he was killed in an automobile accident.

Next largest escape here in recent years was on August 28, 1934, when seven criminally insane men fled from the State Hospital. -- The News & Observer, 8/13/1937

NC Central Prison in the 1920s: "White Cell Block N.C. State Prison Raleigh NC." N&O File photo.


Narrow escape in Pullen Park fire

Pullen Park, claimed by the city of Raleigh to be the first public park in North Carolina, has a rich history. It was founded in 1887 by Richard Stanhope Pullen. In 1888, Wiley A. Howell was named park keeper, and together Pullen and Howell began to develop the park.

In addition to the familiar carousel and train, the park also featured the city's first swimming pool (built in 1891, of wood and replaced later with WPA money) and a small zoo housing bears, alligators and monkeys.
"In Pullen Park” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill

The large trees, some as old as the park itself are the pride of the city. But many of those trees were threatened one night 100 years ago when fire broke out in the park.

Mr. W.A. Howell, keeper of Pullen Park, told a News and Observer reporter yesterday about the fire in the park before day yesterday morning. The fire was reported in yesterday morning's News and Observer, but it was necessarily meager of details, as forms of the paper were on the press when the alarm was turned in.

The fire started, Mr. Howell says, at about 2 a.m. A clock which was found near the ruins had stopped at 2:10. The cause of the fire is unknown.

The house, a one-story frame building, was completely destroyed, and Mr. Howell rescued practically none of his property -- only a bureau, three rocking chairs, and a washstand. Mr. Howell had $500 insurance on his movables, while the house -- a part of the park property -- was insured for $600. Mr. Howell's losses include a $300 piano, a range and practically all the furniture. All the clothing in the house was destroyed.

The family, including Mr. and Mrs. Howell and their six children, had a rather narrow escape. They were waked by the cook, who was sleeping in a part of the house which was cut off from the other rooms. She ran out crying "fire, fire," in time for the family to get out safely, though by this time the fire was well started. The fire was practically over, Mr. Howell says, in twenty-five minutes.

Mrs. Howell, who has been sick and is naturally nervous from the unpleasant event, is with her sister, Mrs. Annie Reavis. The rest of the family are with friends in the neighborhood.


In addition to the destruction of the house and its contents, a great deal of damage was done to the trees surrounding the house. The barn near by also caught fire, but a hose wagon arrived in time and the barn was saved.  -- The News & Observer 7/28/1911

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