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Who do you think you are? Take 2

NBC's  Who Do You Think You Are has yet another North Carolina connection this week. Tonight;s episode (8pm, NBC) finds country singer Reba McEntire researching her family tree at the North Carolina State Archives. 

 

Read more here: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/pasttimes/home#storylink=cpy

A close call

 

In the early days of the Cold War, rural North Carolina residents narrowly escaped disaster. Former N&O writer G.D. Gearino retold the story.
 
It happened early in the morning of Jan. 24, 1961. A B-52 bomber from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro developed trouble shortly after refueling in midair. As the crew sought to return the craft to the base, the plane fell victim to what the Pentagon's official narrative euphemistically described as a "structural failure of the right wing [resulting] in two weapons separating from the aircraft."
 
In other words, the B-52 broke apart in the air thousands of feet above North Carolina and two nuclear bombs fell out.
 
The bombs, along with the various pieces of the plane itself, landed on farm fields near the crossroads community of Faro, a dozen miles north of Goldsboro. Three members of the eight-man crew were killed; the body of one of them was found hanging from a tree. No one on the ground was injured, but it took firefighters from 10 rural companies hours to bring the fire under control. When dawn broke, Air Force officials began searching for the bombs.
 
One was found intact and barely damaged. Its parachute -- a standard feature on the nuclear bombs of that era -- had opened, allowing the bomb to settle to earth relatively gently. Its nose was embedded in the ground, and because the parachute lines had become entangled in a tree, the bomb was hanging vertically, looking for all the world like a dud bomb from the cartoons. It posed no danger.
 
That wasn't the case with the other nuclear bomb.
 
Its parachute failed to open or was severed, and when it hit the ground -- probably traveling at maximum velocity -- the bomb buried itself in a field adjoining Big Daddy's Road, leaving a big crater as evidence of its presence.
 
The Air Force had three immediate responses to the accident: It sealed off the crash site to everyone but official personnel; it reassured news reporters that both bombs had been recovered; and it hauled equipment to the crater and began digging for a bomb that, in fact, had not been recovered at all.
 
Over the next five days, various pieces of the bomb were excavated. But after two weeks, when the digging had reached a depth of nearly 50 feet and the crater was 200 feet in diameter, the recovery faltered. The crash site adjoins the Nahunta Swamp and the water table in the area is extremely high. Despite using numerous pumps, it was difficult to keep the huge hole emptied of water. Eventually, the Air Force gave up. The recovery effort was halted on May 25, the hole was filled and the Air Force purchased an easement from the landowner so that it could control access to the site.
 
These are the undisputed details of the event. Almost everything else about it remains open to question.
 
In the early '60s, people tended to believe what the government told them. An indication of that can be found in the news coverage that followed the B-52 crash.
 
The News & Observer, for instance, had a front-page report of the event in the next day's paper. But because the Air Force had declared that both weapons were recovered and that there was no danger from radiation, interest quickly tailed off. On the second day, there was a relatively short account of interviews with the B-52's surviving crew. (The story noted that Air Force officials "would not permit questions about the nuclear weapons the plane carried.") By the third day, the news had migrated to the back page, where it got a two-paragraph mention.
 
That was it for almost two decades.
 
[...]
 
In 1980, word leaked out from the Pentagon that five of the six switches on the recovered Goldsboro bomb had been tripped. Later, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara confirmed the report during a news conference in Washington. Anti-nuclear activists subsequently declared that this was America's closest brush with disaster from an atomic bomb.
 
The Air Force acknowledged that the B-52's midair disintegration that night "caused some of the weapon components to operate as designed, as if an intended release had occurred." But, a spokesman said, two safety devices -- presumably, the sole intact arm/safe switch and the pilot's unactivated arming switch in the cockpit -- "functioned as intended."
 
Ultimately, [Chuck Hansen, the author of "U.S. Nuclear Weapons: The Secret History," as well as a contributor to the Nuclear Weapons Databook and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists] thinks both parties are correct: The Goldsboro crash was indeed the closest we came to disaster, but even if all six arm/safe switches had been tripped, the bomb still wouldn't have ignited because it hadn't been armed by the pilot. -- The News & Observer 8/11/2002
 
In 2000, students at UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communication produced a web project called Broken Arrow: Goldsboro, NC, The Truth Behind North Carolina's Brush with Nuclear Disaster

Honoring St. Agnes Hospital

 

As part of its Black History Month celebration, Raleigh's North Central Citizens Advisory Council will host a celebration of St. Agnes Hospital today from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Martin Luther King Jr. Ballroom on the St. Augustine’s College campus. The mayor and Raleigh City Council have proclaimed February 25 St. Agnes Hospital Day.
 
You can read Thomasi McDonald's story about the hospital and its history here. It is most likely known as the hospital where boxing legend Jack Johnson died after an auto accident in Franklinton.
 

Who do you think you are?

Tonight's episode of Who Do You Think You Are (8pm, NBC) has a special North Carolina connection. Meredith College history professor Dr. Dan Fountain was consulted and worked with actor Blair Underwood to trace his lineage in a genealogical journey that includes a DNA test, a trip to Africa, and articles that reveal the hardships and unforeseen triumphs of his ancestors. Read Brooke Cain's story about Fountain and his work on the show.

The record snow of 1927

 

Last weekend's snowy flirtation with winter was no comparison to the great storm that hit North Carolina 85 years ago. Snow started during the night of March 1, 1927 and continued until it had hit record depths and crippled the city.
 
The heaviest accumulation was reported in Wilson, which saw between 30 and 40 inches of snow. Nearly 18 inches hit Raleigh. The storm spanned the state and extended as far west as Kentucky and as far south as Alabama. It was the biggest storm since the famous blizzard of 1899.
Raleigh yesterday struggled beneath the heaviest single day's snowfall in the history of the city. Twenty hours of continuous snowfall, which ceased yesterday afternoon at 3 o'clock, brought the total depth to 17.8 inches, one-tenth of an inch more than the previous record of 17.7 inches recorded February 12-13, 1899.
 
[...]
 
Yesterday's record snow played havoc with traffic and business in general. The General Assembly was practically the only organization to function on all cylinders. Street car traffic was at a standstill; bus lines and taxicab companies kept their vehicles in the garages; trains in and out of Raleigh ran several hours behind schedule; city and county schools observed the day as a holiday; no session of Wake Superior or Raleigh city court were held; state departments declared a holiday, and in offices and stores throughout the city only partial forces were at work as many of the officials and employes were snowbound and unable to reach the establishments.
 
While the snowfall was but 17.8 inches, it was accompanied by a 30-mile wind which resulted in drifts on streets of the city in some instances waist high and at the corners of tall buildings in the business section of even higher proportions. Pedestrian traffic was the order as few automobilists ventured forth in their vehicles. Pedestrians found safe traveling on the slippery tracts or in the knee-deep drifts extremely difficult, and to maintain safe footings proved a feat.
 
Dispatches from all over the state described conditions in individual towns.
 
The University of North Carolina and the town of Chapel Hill are literally snowbound today. The heaviest snow of many years fell last night and this morning, burying the countryside beneath a 20-inch blanket of white and cutting off all communication with the outside world except by wire. Until a late hour this afternoon there had been no mail service of any kind. Not a bus or car has run between Chapel Hill and Durham, and train connection with the main line of the Southern at University station 13 miles away has been cut by the deep drifts. Railway authorities stated that the train to University station would make a trip late this afternoon, and people of the town may get their morning papers late tonight. Highway crews are working on the drifts that block the roads leading into town, and travel by bus and auto may be resumed tomorrow. Until then Chapel Hill is a town that stands alone.
 
Although this was a record snowfall, it was not as problematic as others in recent memory.
 
The famous snow storm of April, 1915, which started on Good Friday evening, and piled up a depth in snow of around ten inches, was by far more destructive than the present storm. The 1915 snow started falling after the ground had been soaked by a torrential rain and with the temperature high enough to cause the flakes to stick together, with disastrous results to telephone and telegraph wires, trolley lines and trees. The fall continued from Friday evening, around 8 o'clock, until Saturday afternoon.
 
The scene that greeted Raleigh citizens [that] Saturday morning was one of devastation on all sides; fallen trees and telegraph and telephone poles littered the streets, adding to the obstacles of resuming street car service; broken wires made laborious walking dangerous; and the usual Easter Sunday fashion parade as well as church programs were postponed for a week. The paralysis of the wire systems kept the city without lights and power for two or three days.
Raleigh was cut off from outside communication for an entire week, the first wire to be re-established by the Western Union being used to handle Associated Press reports and urgent commercial business. The "Old Reliable" was forced to get its news by train, receiving carbon copies of the Associated Press report at Greensboro a day late. -- The News & Observer 3/3/1927

Memories of the Peanut Man

 

For many who grew up in Raleigh in the 60s and 70s, a trip downtown was not complete without buying a bag of peanuts from the peanut man. Jesse Broyles, a fixture at the Capitol from 1963 to 1981, braved the elements and the efforts of state groundskeepers to rid the grounds of peanut hulls and pigeons.
A familiar sight to Raleigh citizens since he settled on the Capitol Square steps facing Fayetteville Street four years ago, Broyles can be seen anytime of day, rain or shine, selling his peanuts and talking things over with passers-by and the pigeons.
 
"I used to sit over there," Broyles said, nodding toward the other side of the steps. "Peanut sellers had been sitting there for 40 years until George Cherry [director of the state General Services Division] made me move one year after I come here. I guess he thought I'd give up on account of being out in the weather without the shelter of that magnolia tree. ...
 
"One day when it was raining I pushed my cart back under the tree and Cherry came down and bawled me out. But I don't mind being out in the wet -- used to be a Marine."
 
Broyles laughed. "My business has picked up 200 per cent since Cherry made me move over to this side. People buy more peanuts since I'm out in the open."
 
Cherry's other tactics [to shoo away the pigeons] have made no impression on the birds, Broyles said.
 
"They tried blinking lights to scare them off, but they didn't pay no mind, did you, Speck?" he said, cracking a peanut for a black-spotted white pigeon.  ...
 
Grass fertilizer has poisoned many of the birds in the last few years, Broyles says, and has slimmed down the flock from several hundred to only 100.
 
But Broyles is unruffled. "I think maybe they're getting immune to it."
 
Not even the recent loss of the legislator trade disturbs the stout-hearted Broyles. Legislators, when in session, used to account for a good deal of the peanut business, because they often walked through the square. In the last session, peanuts were outlawed in both houses because of the continual cracking noises.
 
"That don't really hurt my business none," Broyles said, "because the legislators just bought peanuts for themselves, never for the birds, so they didn't buy as many as most do."
 
Broyles says that although most people consider peanuts "just bird feed," he has "never seen a legislator give a peanut to a pigeon." -- The News & Observer 1/3/1967
 
See more photos of Raleigh's Peanut man.

Dedicated to the one you love

 

In 1978, John Havel, an exhibit designer with the NC Museum of History came upon some rather unusual valentines.
 
"America and England went through a stage of very cruel, nasty valentines in the 1840s and 1850s," Havel said. "They were printed cards, and people sent them to spinsters, widows and drunkards. ..." 
 
Here's an example of a not-so-nice card mailed around 1850:
 
"Gone to Seed"
 
A lass you are, but hard you tried to wed,
But alas, for you, the male fools all are dead.
When you were young, your heart did pant and throb
but a pair of pants ne'er answered to your sob.
You were a rose -- remember it now, I can't;
But now you are a faded century plant ..
You've gone to seed! On manhood 'tis a blot
That such a maid as you should go to pot.
-- The News & Observer 2/10/1978
 
By the 20th century, Valentine sentiments were a little more familiar. The February issue of Wrightsville Beach Magazine has an article about love letters sent from the USS North Carolina during World War II. You can see a virtual copy of the article with images of love letters and Valentine's Day cards online.

Learn more about the Civil War

 

The NC State Archives Civil War Sesquicentennial Lecture Series has announced its lineup for 2012's "Second Mondays" lectures.
 
These programs are free to the public and are  held in the auditorium of the State Archives and Library building from 10:30-11:30 a.m. 
 
February's lecture has been rescheduled for February 20.
 
February 20:  Changing Tides: The Burnside Expedition, Chris Meekins, N.C. State Archives
 
May 14: Sacred Bodies: Caring for the Dead During and After the War, Bill Brown, Debbi Blake, Chris Meekins, N.C. State Archives
 
August 13: Bringing in the Dead: The North Carolina Civil War Atlas and Death Study, Josh Howard, Oce of Archives and History, Research Branch
 
November 19: Confederate Conscription Laws: A Primer, Bill Brown, N.C. State Archives
 

First Baptist celebrates 200 years

 

Visitors to Capitol Square might wonder about the First Baptist Church on one corner of the square and another First Baptist Church on the opposite corner. The two churches actually began as one congregation, and both are marking their bicentennial this year.
 
In 1962, Jane Hall wrote about each of the churches and their development. 
 
It all began on a winter night early in 1812 when Raleigh had approximately 1,000 inhabitants and not a single church building. On that night both white and Negro citizens met in the State House where they heard a powerful and eloquent sermon by the Rev. Robert T. Daniel. The result was the organization of Raleigh's First Baptist Church, with both white and Negro members.
 
Six years later the congregation constructed its first church building at a cost of $600 on South Person Street in the block between Hargett and Martin streets. In 1822, the city granted the congregation permission to move the church to Moore Square where it was located in a grove of magnificent oaks. Ever since, the square, which faces the present city market, has been called "Baptist Grove" by local citizens.
 
By 1826, when the Rev. Mr. Daniel resigned, the congregation numbered 224 and of these 157 were Negroes. Shortly after, during the pastorate of the Rev. Amos J. Battle (1839-44), the congregation purchased from Willie Jones the present lot on the corner of Morgan and Wilmington streets and a church was built there. ...
 
Finally, in 1858, during the first pastorate of the Rev. Thomas E. Skinner, a site was purchased on the corner of Edenton and Salisbury streets and a church erected there. 
 
At the same time, the Negro members of the congregation -- led by Henry Jett -- started a movement for the establishment of a separate church and on a motion by P. F. Pescud the request was granted.
 
The First Baptist Church Colored retained the Morgan and Wilmington streets site but on Sept. 17, 1859, the congregation sold it to the Rt. Rev. P. N. Lynch, Roman Catholic Bishop of Charleston, S. C., and the Catholics used the property until 1879 when they bought from Palaski Cowper the site where Sacred Heart Cathedral now stands.
 
Meanwhile, in the years between 1859 and 1896, the congregation purchased and disposed of two other sites. One site was on Salisbury Street, between North and Johnson streets, which was subsequently sold on Jan. 17, 1907 to B. F. Montague for $2,500. The other site was on the northwest corner of Blount and Hargett streets which was sold in 1907 to the City of Raleigh for a fire station.
 
On April 18, 1896, the First Baptist congregation bought back from the Catholics the present lot on the corner of Morgan and Wilmington streets for $2,000.  ...
 
The cornerstone of the present church was laid in 1904 during the pastorate of the Rev. W. T. Coleman. The earlier building on the site had become physically unsafe and had been demolished. -- The News & Observer 2/18/1962
 
Church discipline in [the] early days was strict and to the point. Until 1827, members were required to attend the communion service. They were excluded from membership if the charge of intoxication was proved against them. A woman member ... was expelled for "heresy."
 
In another instance, Major W. W. Vass was brought before the church conference charged with having attended a circus. His description of what he saw and heard at the circus so moved his hearers with interest and muted hilarity, the charge was quietly dropped.
 
The church also reprimanded a non-member -- J. J. James, editor of the Biblical Recorder -- for his criticism of their pastor. James said he would give $100 on a new building if the church would get an interesting preacher. 
 
The most significant expulsion ... was that of I. G. M. Buffaloe in 1849. Buffaloe was charged with "being guilty of conduct unbecoming to a Christian in having formed a co-partnership for the purpose of speculation in Negroes."
 
He was ordered to cease from such traffic and make a suitable apology to the church. Buffaloe refused and the congregation unanimously expelled him for "conduct unbecoming to a Christian." 
 
This action [according to the church's historian] showed clearly the attitude toward the slave traffic of Christians in North Carolina generally and the membership of the Raleigh Baptist Church in particular 12 years before the beginning of the War Between the States and at a time when many church members owned slaves. -- The News & Observer 2/25/1962
 
Both congregations celebrate their 200th anniversary this year. One event marking this milestone will be Two Buildings/One Heart: 200 Years of the First Baptist Churches of Raleigh, a performance by Burning Coal Theatre Company that will begin in one church and end in the other.

Events celebrating Black History Month

 

The N.C. Museum of History has several programs coming up during Black History Month that focus on North Carolina’s African American history and culture. All of these events are free.
 
African American History Tour
Saturday, Feb. 4, 11, 18 and 25
1:30-2:30 p.m.
Explore the lives and accomplishments of African American North Carolinians from the antebellum period to the Civil Rights era.
 
History à la Carte: Operation Dixie
Wednesday, Feb. 8
12:10-1 p.m.
Bring your lunch; beverages provided.
Nearly 10 years before the Montgomery bus boycott, black workers in eastern North Carolina campaigned for civil rights in tobacco warehouses. Discover how thousands organized and secured union contracts in nearly 30 “leaf houses.” James Wrenn from the Phoenix Historical Society will present the program.
 
Music of the Carolinas: Boo Hanks
Sunday, Feb. 12
3-4 p.m.
Drawing from a deep musical well, Hanks showcases his virtuosity in the delicate finger-style guitar of classic Piedmont blues. The performance is presented with PineCone, with support from the N.C. Museum of History Associates, Williams Mullen, and WLHC-FM/WLQC-FM.
 
To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker
Monday, Feb. 13
11 a.m.
Leaving her son and daughter behind in 1848, Mary Walker fled from slavery and the plantation that is now Historic Stagville in Durham. She spent 17 years trying to recover her family. Dr. Syd Nathans, Professor Emeritus at Duke University, will present a talk based on his book about her remarkable story. The program is sponsored by the N.C. African American Heritage Commission. 
 
Return to Tradition
Saturday, Feb. 25
10 a.m.-noon
Presented in conjunction with the Sons of the American Revolution, this program focuses on a lesser-known fact about the American Revolution: significant numbers of people of color fought for the Patriots during the war. Hear keynote speaker Gen. James Gorham, North Carolina’s only African American four-star general.
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