Not long after the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed in a middle eastern cave in 1947, writer Edward L. Fiske pointed out the North Carolina connection.
One of the most exciting and dramatic Biblical discoveries ever to come to light was made recently in war-torn Palestine when four of the oldest Hebrew manuscripts thus far known and estimated to be over 2,000 years old were found in a cave near the northern end of the Dead Sea.
Sharing in the discovery and identification of these priceless scrolls was Dr. William H. Brownlee of the Department of Religion at Duke University, who has recently returned to the campus from the Holy Land, where he studied at the American School for Oriental Research in Jerusalem.
These well-preserved but brittle leather and parchment scrolls miraculously came to light under more dramatic circumstances than a Hollywood plot could conjure, complete with cloak and dagger, smugglers and war.
The story began last winter when Bedouins, who are engaged in smuggling goods between Transjordan and Palestine, hid out in a cave near the Dead Sea. Far back in the cave they discovered pottery jars containing scrolls wrapped carefully in linen and evidently untouched for over twenty centuries. After consulting some monks in Bethlehem, the Bedouins turned their find over to Syrian monks in Jerusalem ....
As the Jewish-Arab war spread and the situation became increasingly dangerous in Jerusalem, these monks decided to have their mysterious parchments studied and identified at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. At that time there were only two scholars present, Dr. John C. Trevor, ... and Dr. Brownlee of Duke University. All others were either en route to America or away on an expedition to Iraq.
The Americans who were startled by what they recognized to be one of the most important Biblical discoveries in history quickly obtained permission from the Syrian Monks to photograph all of the scrolls. These scrolls have now been put away for safe keeping by the Monks in a secret repository somewhere in the Near East.
Dr. Brownlee states that it is believed that the scrolls were left in the cave by a monastic group, probably living in the wilderness of Judea as refugees from persecution by the religious majority and priests in Jerusalem the first or second century before the birth of Christ.
The scrolls not only include the Book of Isaiah but the written views of this ancient order and a commentary on Habbakkuk which Dr. Bronwlee was first to translate and identify. These scrolls are particularly valuable, according to Dr. Bronwlee, because they have words with new meanings rarely used in the Bible.
"We will also learn more about pronunciation of ancient Hebrew as a result of the discovery," said Dr. Bronwlee. He points out that Hebrew originally had no vowels, but only written consonants. Since these scrolls have an unusually large number of vowels, there will be new keys to pronunciation.
This discovery then provides a new bridge across the gap between the old and new testaments and is especially important since it is the first and only discovery of ancient manuscripts made in Palestine. All other Biblical documents have been found in monasteries scattered around the world, with some doubt therefore as to their origins. Biblical scholars the world over are already hailing this find as a great contribution to our understanding of the Bible. -- The News & Observer 11/14/1948
Dr. Brownlee may have been impressed with the importance of the discovery, his university didn't necessarily share his vision and passed on the chance to buy a portion of what is now considered the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century, as reporter Yonat Shimron reported when the traveling exhibit came to Raleigh several years ago.
Three years later (in 1950), four scrolls traveled to Duke, where they were seen by 30,000 people during a one-week exhibit in the university's chapel. According to legend, one elderly man promptly fainted when told the Isaiah scroll he was looking at was written during the time of Jesus.
But though the public was enthusiastic, university officials were less so.
"No one in the U.S. was prescient enough to know what they were and how important they were, " said Eric Meyers, professor and director of the Judaic Studies Center at Duke. "It was a missed opportunity." -- The News & Observer 6/28/2008
In the early 1960s, computers were just beginning to take their place in daily life in Raleigh, and writer Lineta Craven took a look at the city’s electronic landscape.
Electronic computers, young as they are, have come to play a role in the life of businessmen something like that played in other times by the saddle-backed elephant before wheels were invented. They carry businesses towards success when they’re placed on the right road. But unless someone is telling them what to do, they reveal their stupidity and take a wrong turn.
In Raleigh, more than 20 firms and government offices enjoy the benefits of data processing by what some fondly call “electronic idiots.” Banks, insurance agencies, dairies, textile research, investment and realty companies are among the major users of the large and highly sophisticated machines.
In the next few years, department stores, private clubs, grocery stores and public schools probably will be employing this modern method of processing facts and figures.
Data processing may be the job of a stoop-shouldered man in a green eyeshade perched on a high stool, painstakingly adding figures in a leatherbound ledger. At the other extreme, it may involve an impressive array of multi-million dollar electronic computers, whirling away thousands of feet of magnetic tape.
For the average businessman – trapped in the squeeze of office operating expenses increasing faster than his profit margin – neither of these methods is the answer to his problems. He has had enough of the traditional time-consuming forms of record-keeping, but he is equally disenchanted by the expense and complexity he envisions to be a part of electronic data processing.…
Raleigh is a progressive city situated in the center of a progressive state, and the computer seems to go hand in hand with people searching always for a better way to get things done right. This fact is supported by the rapid increase of businesses and institutions which are more and more turning to punched cards of all colors for billing, payrolls and inventory.…
N.C. State has a Computer Center employing over 15 people who deal with problems ranging from numbers for composing music to the collaboration of calculations for a student in nuclear physics.…
“Computers let us solve problems which man could not even attempt to solve without machines,” explained former director Dr. Darrell Shrieve. “One hour of work by a computer is equal to work that would take a man 75 to 100 years to complete.”
The plan to let computers take over student registration for the upcoming semester had some pros and cons for the students.
Though signing up for classes via machine might cut down long lines in the heat of September, it also limits the choice of the students who want to get out of Saturday classes.
A student pre-registers for the courses he wants to take, and the computer fills out his schedule. The department head can control class numbers and instruction. And the young scholar accepts his doom. The machine has spoken, and there’s no sense in wasting time trying to argue with it.…
But one important thing to bear in mind about computers is this: a computer in its present form is definitely limited. It does only what someone tells it to do, and performs operations that are highly inferior to the level of human thinking.
Arthur Verbeck, who ran the computers for the School of Textiles, explained it this way:
“A computer literally has to be led by the nose. There is no such thing as a computer being able to solve a complex problem instantaneously. It must first break down the problem into very simple, elementary steps. The fact that it’s fast makes it seem intelligent.” – The N&O, 7/5/1964
In November of 1948, the NC Hygiene Society and the NC Neuropsychiatric Association met to pay tribute to Dorothea Dix, the "forgotten Samaritan" and to mark the centennial year of her appeals to the NC General Assembly to establish a hospital for the mentally ill. Cora S. Rice provided a little history on the establishment of what came to be known as Dix Hill.
North Carolina was by no means the only state to benefit from Miss Dix's humanitarian work. As a result of her untiring efforts, thousands of demented souls were released from dungeons, caves, and prisons and placed in hospitals where they were given treatment befitting the sick and unfortunate of humanity. ...
At the time of Dorothea Dix's visit to North Carolina in the fall of 1848, her efforts on behalf of the mentally ill had already resulted in the establishment of hospitals in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other states. In fact, only two of the original 13 states had failed to provide institutions for their mental patients. These were North Carolina and little Delaware.
However General Assembly was resistant to the idea of an additional tax to fund such a hospital at a time when the state's total revenue was only around $200,000 a year.
For a few days Miss Dix's cause seemed lost but Providence moved in a mysterious way. It happened that James C. Dobbin of Fayetteville was floor leader of the 1848 House of Commons. During the session his wife was taken with what proved to be a fatal illness, during which she was nursed with tender care by the faithful Dorothea Dix. On her deathbed, Mrs. Dobbin asked Miss Dix if there were not some way she could show her appreciation.
"Yes," replied Dorothea, "you can do something. You can ask your husband to speak for the Hospital Bill." Louisa Dobbin died on December 18, and as a last request she asked her husband to support Miss Dix's project.
James Dobbin kept his promise. He did not observe the customary period of mourning, but on December 23 resumed his place in the House. Dobbin, who later became Secretary of the Navy, moved for reconsideration of the Hospital Bill, which had been voted on and defeated on December 21 in his absence. He supported his motion with a speech of such pathos, power and eloquence that he swept the House before him. When the vote was taken, the measure passed with an overwhelming majority -- 91 to 10, and such an impression was made by Dobbin's speech that in the Senate the vote was unanimous.
Dorothea Dix then bent all her energies on getting to Washington, where a bill soliciting five million acres of public lands for the benefit of the mentally sick was about to be brought before Congress. Her North Carolina friends stayed her.
"Not yet," they said. "you must help us select a site for the new hospital." Miss Dix smile, for wherever she had helped secure a hospital she had always been asked to choose a site.
With the help of hospital commissioners she found a suitable location southwest of Raleigh -- a large hill commanding an expansive view with lovely trees and good water. "You will let us call it Dix Hill after you?" the commissioners asked. Miss Dix hesitated. "You accept no money, no gifts from legislatures. Can we not express our gratitude in this way? If not in your honor, perhaps there is someone dear to you whose memory you would like to perpetuate."
Yes, there was someone, Dorothea Dix thought -- her grandfather. It would be a fitting tribute to Dr. Elijah Dix, who had once dreamed of establishing a medical school in Boston. So, it is in his honor that the North Carolina Hospital is known as Dix Hill. -- The N&O 11/14/1948
The story etched on the back of her grave marker in Raleigh's Oakwood Cemetery credits Sophia Arms Partridge with the idea to create a resting place there for Confederate soldiers. In 1889, the Raleigh Daily Call reported she "first conceived the idea of having a collective place of interment for the dead boys in gray, and to her belongs the credit of suggesting and mainly organizing the first Confederate cemetery."
Seventy-five years ago, there were still some who had first-hand memory or had heard stories of Miss Partridge. Susan Iden shared her stories.
Among my earliest memories is that of the stories told me by my mother and grandmother of Miss Sophia Partridge's School in Raleigh. Miss Partridge has been dead more than half a century, her death occurring in 1881, but so vital was her personality and so great was the contribution that she made to the educational life of early Raleigh, that she still lives in the memory of old time residents....
Sophia Arms Partridge was born May 15, 1817, in Vienna, New York. On account of the ill health of her sister she came South. After several years in Louisburg, she came to Raleigh in 1846 and opened her Select School for Young Ladies on the lot where the Thompson School is now located, corner of Swain and Hargett Streets. The school was the first boarding school in Raleigh.
There was a little frame building that Miss Partridge bought and enlarged into a two story building with a long porch across the front with wings at each end that were used as school rooms. ...
Miss Partridge taught her pupils much besides the three R's. She was a woman of great culture and refinement. She taught her pupils art and music and fine needlework. She also taught them manners. The young ladies were drilled in how to enter and leave a room. No young lady would have thought of crossing her knees or of showing more than an enticing glimpse of slender ankles. At certain times calling days were observed among the students. They dressed in their best attire and came calling on the teachers and again they would act as hostesses and the teachers would come calling on them, all lessons in proper etiquette.
Miss Partridge was assisted in the school by her sister, Martha, who died young, by her sister Carolina, Mrs. James F. Jordan, and by her aunt, Mrs. Bobitt, whose husband taught a school for boys on the block just below on Hargett Street. Students came from as far distant as Mississippi. The instruction was thorough. One of Miss Partridge's admirers said that she had an admirable disposition and never lost command of her temper. She was talented in painting landscapes, figures, fruits and flowers and received many prizes from the State Fair on her paintings.
One of the things that endeared Miss Partridge to Raleigh people was her loyalty to the South and her work for the Confederacy. Coming to Raleigh just before the Civil War, she allied herself with the South. She formed sewing clubs for the soldiers and taught girls how to make bandages and dressings. She was secretary of the Ladies' Memorial Association.
Letters written by Miss Partridge in 1861 are full of politics and the War and what she was doing for the soldiers. In one of them she referred to letters she had received from Northern relatives and said: "Two of them made me so mad that I have not answered them yet." ...
The letters are charmingly written, news of the neighborhood, of her school, of moss landscapes she was doing, of romances and engagements of friends, of the weather and events of Christmas, bedquilt making, spring gardening and all that goes into the day. Letter writing in those days was an art.
Miss Partridge's school was started September 1st, 1836, and was continued until 1865, with a break between 1851 and 1858, when there was no school. Fortunately, her old roll book ... has been preserved. The record is in the finest penmanship.... So far as I have been able to find only two of her pupils are alive today, at least in Raleigh ..... There are, however, many of the children and grandchildren of Miss Partridge's pupils who remember very vividly the stories of the old school as told them by their parents and grandparents. ...
In her later years Miss Partridge developed asthma, or perhaps it was consumption as it was called in those days .... Her friends came to see her in her lovely room, with its fine furniture, its fourposter bed with its immaculate bed linen and coverlets, its chairs with frilled chair covers. I heard a woman, who lived near Miss Partridge as a little girl, say that she used to wish that she would soon grow up and have consumption and lie in a big white bed and look as lovely as Miss Sophia did and have her friends come to see her.-- The News & Observer 1/23/1937
While the Wright Brothers were making their historic "first flights" on the North Carolina coast, another kind of transportation history was being made a little farther inland. Raleigh Times writer Mary Richard Vester brought readers the story of an inventor who might have rivaled Henry Ford in the automobile industry.
Long before he ever saw a gasoline car, Gilbert S. Waters made one he called a buggymobile and successfully drove it on a New Bern street in 1900. He's believed to be the first automobile maker in North Carolina.
"Laws will be passed against such outlandish noises," onlookers said as he cranked the chain drive vehicle. If the peculiar machine got started it probably could not be stopped, they laughed.
And indeed speed was Waters' primary worry. He said the little one-cylinder, five horsepower motor would go faster than he could keep it in the road with its steering rod, bicycle chain and muffler.
But he had a bigger problem. No one believed in his vision of transportation for the future....
Bankers and industrial leaders told Gilbert to stick to his buggy business ... rather than venturing into such an uncertain and unsafe realm.
The buggymobile in fact did take several spills, once turning around -- for it had only one forward gear and neutral -- and once when a front wheel rolled off. Both times it was carrying the burden of overweight passengers.
The 500-lb. creation could race at 25 miles an hour. But two passengers would hold it down to 20 m.p.h., and 15 m.p.h. was the best it could do with three.
Waters' buggy business was good. Usually he sold 100 buggies a year, and once averaged making and selling four a day. Without financial backing ... Gilbert was forced to forgo the mobile for the buggy.
Steam-driven vehicles he saw in 1899 in Baltimore, where there were only four at the time, gave Waters the Horseless carriage idea no one wanted to share. He started the contraption Feb. 6 after he returned and finished it June 30.
He wore out that first machine, putt-putting over the hills and dales of Craven County while two bicycle makers named Wright soared above nearby Kill Devil's Hill. He reincarnated her motor in another buggy in 1903. Water's daughter, Mrs. B. S. Sadler, about 1911 was probably the first woman to drive a car in North Carolina. She donated the 1903 model to the State Museum of History when the family no longer used it in 1948.
It cruised 30 miles on a gallon of gasoline as late as 1935 without a State license tag because it qualified in none of the revenue departments classifications. It weighs 540 lbs. and holds 2 gallons of fuel.
It slightly resembles a modified Hoover cart, but Waters explained it is entirely different in purpose and principle. He said it's more like a Roosevelt Recovery car since the owner recovered it from the past, re-employed it for service and hopes to ride in it anywhere he'd like to go under improved conditions resulting from the National Industrial Recovery Act, for which he nicknamed the car "Nira."
Waters told a reporter 30 years after his invention that the Hoover cart had two wheels and sent automobile bodies back to mule power, but the Roosevelt Recovery had four wheels and operated in the modern way with gas brought under the increasing purchasing power of returning prosperity.
Henry Ford's contemporary explained that at that time he was rejuvenating the machine as an old-time worker given a new job after being on the unemployment list. He attached a blue eagle insignia with the caption, "We do our part," referring to Roosevelt's re-employment campaign.
And Waters did his part in the transportation revolution. He rang a bicycle bell to warn pedestrians of his approach and kept an old whip in the buggy's whip-socket. One early automobile was designed with a large imitation horse's head on the front to prevent horses it met on the road from shying.
New Bern missed its chance to be the Detroit of the South, but Waters didn't go entirely unrecognized. New York radio station WABC, Columbia network, invited him to appear on Gabriel Heatter's "We the People."
The nation wanted to know all about the man who might have beaten Henry Ford to the draw, it .... Correspondence from the network asked Waters seriously to consider driving the car to New York for his appearance. But in the end the station shipped it by express, and had Waters drive it through New York streets for promotional purposes.
The Baltimore News Post, New York Daily News and Philadelphia Record ran stories about the would-have-been Henry Ford rival and its four-cycle, water-cooled gasoline engine, magneto ignition system, six six-volt dry cell batteries and chain drive off a coupled flywheel. Its entire cylinder head is encased in a water jacket.
Another New Bern fellow, County Commissioner Tom Haywood, preceded Waters on "We the People," with the story of his celebrated kicking machine.
Waters' part in the auto industry never got beyond that of later days when he sold automobile tires and accessories, but later generations bestowed sympathies and written recognition. "The Coming Link," a machine publication of Springfield, Mass., called him the builder of the first autobuggy.
Waters' son, Lt. Col. Frank H. Waters lives in Raleigh on Falls of the Neuse Road.-- The Raleigh Times 2/11/1967
A Raleigh crowd, who in 1931 had not yet seen a helicopter (they weren't on the scene for a few years still) and were only a few years removed from the Wright Brothers first flight, were fascinated when the famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart "dropped in" in her Beech-Nut Autogiro.
Arriving in an autogiro, the first aircraft of the sort to be seen in Raleigh, Miss Earhart literally dropped down on the field. Other planes may hover and swoop and glide over the field, but the autogiro with a whirl of its propeller, made a vertical descent and came to rest close by the airport hangar, a strange looking air visitor.
It would be hard to say which was the bigger attraction, Miss Earhart or the autogiro, and during the three days that they are in Raleigh the city will have opportunity to see both a number of times.
... Miss Earhart will give a demonstration flight at the Curtiss-Wright Airport. The general public is invited to attend this demonstration. Saturday evening Miss Earhart will deliver a fifteen-minute talk over Radio Station WPTF.
At the Saturday demonstration, Miss Earhart will show all the remarkable possibilities of this newest type of aircraft. The flying features of the autogyro are most spectacular. It makes short take-offs, steep climbs, stands still in the air, flies backwards and makes vertical descents with little or no runs. Many aviation autorities consider that the new type plane will be safe, practical and popular aircraft of the future.-- The News & Observer 11/7/1931
While Governor O. Max Gardner sent State Auditor Baxter Durham with official greetings for Miss Earhart, the Democratic candidate for governor, J.C.B. Ehringhaus was on hand and with his wife took a ride in the aircraft.
Librarians from the State Library, East Carolina University, and other libraries recorded the names and events of statewide importance on index cards and later on computer. That alphabetical listing of names and subjects are now available in a searchable database. This is not a full-text database of articles. The index provides citation information to use in accessing back copies of The News & Observer on microfilm.
Many public and academic libraries across the state have N&O microfilm. Local libraries that don't have those back issues can borrow microfilm from the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina.
You can make it better!
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software was used to mechanically transcribe the original index cards as they were scanned. Because the typed text can be hard to read, the software sometimes "guessed" wrong.
State Library staff worked to clean the card topics to make them searchable, but in order to make the index available sooner, it was released with those guesses and with typos. Users who find typos can click on the "see a typo" link and submit the corrected information.
Indexes from 1978 to 1981 that were originally published electronically and in book form are not included in this index. Plans are underway to add those entries.
Fulltext searchable archives of The News & Observer are available back to 1990. Links to both the fulltext archive and the 1926-1992 index can be found under Research Tools to the right.
For one former vaudeville star, the thrills of the stage took a back seat to the excitement of Raleigh.
There's no business like show business," but there are more thrills in pushing a hack.
At least this is the opinion of Harry Russell (Bob) Luken, 55-year-old Raleigh cab driver.
Luken quit show business in the 1930's and came to Raleigh where he got a job driving a cab.
During his more than 25 years of pushing a hack in the Capital City, he has had many races with the stork, and only lost three.
He has been twice robbed at gun-point and on another occasion fought off a bandit armed with a "long switch-blade knife."
Luken has also raced with death numerous times. Once he lost, and his fare died en route to a hospital.
"I was born and raised in show business," Luken recalled. "Born in Philadelphia, went to school in Newark, N. J. and completed one year at N. Y. U. I was in vaudeville for years. Professional acrobat. Did the flying return. I was a flier, if you know what I mean...
"But in 1930 talking pictures came along and vaudeville folded. For a while I worked in outdoor shows. This was a summertime thing. In the winter of 1937 I came to Raleigh looking for work. A fellow gave me a job pushing a hack. I've been doing it ever since ..."
Luken said he would never forget the night he delivered the first baby.
"I got called to E. Worth Street," he recalled. "This woman said she wanted to go to the hospital. She said she was in a hurry, but all expectant mothers I've hauled seem to be afraid they won't get there in time.
"It was about 2 a.m. Suddenly she began screaming and moaning. I pulled over to the side of the road. She was right -- there hadn't been enough time.
"I delivered the baby in the back seat of the cab, then drove her to the hospital. She and the baby did fine," Luken beamed proudly.
The other two races with the stork in which Luken placed second occurred in much the same way. The mothers and babies also "did fine."
Luken picked up a man at the bus station in 1940.... At the end of the line the man asked how much was owed.
"I told him 35 cents," the cab driver said. "He said he wasn't going to give me 35 cents, that he might give me 25 cents. We had just gone up from 25 cents to 35 cents for anywhere in Raleigh.
"He pulled a long switch-blade knife on me. I pulled a 25 caliber automatic from my shoulder holster. He threw 50 cents on the floor, jumped from the cab and dived into some bushes.
"I shot the bushes. I didn't have any idea of hitting him. He jumped about six feet in the air, yelled and took off again ..."
Other bandits were more successful, however.
Luken picked up a fare at the corner of Dawson and Martin streets who appeared to have a stiff leg.
"I didn't think much about it. We haul all sorts of people," Luken said....
"We were near Chavis Heights when I felt the muzzle of a rifle against the back of my head.
"The guy ordered me to stop the car. I was slowing down when the guy yelled 'I said stop this car or I'll blow your head off.'
"I told him I wasn't about to stop suddenly while he had his finger on the trigger ... He really cleaned me. He took $14.85 cents, my little pocket knife, my cigarette lighter.
"Then he asked what I had in my shirt pockets. I told him my cigarettes. I had about a half a pack. He took the cigarettes. The other shirt pocket contained matches. He took those too.
"I told him how much trouble it was to get a chauffer's license reissued, and asked him to please leave mine on the seat. He took the papers out of my wallet, left them on the seat. But he kept my wallet ..." The News & Observer 7/14/1964
Triangle Home Movie Day on Saturday October 20 from 1 pm to 4 pm. kicks off a week of activities in recognition of Archives Week in North Carolina. All activities will take place at the State Archives of North Carolina at 109 E. Jones St. in Raleigh.
The theme of this year's Archives Week is "Journeys to Justice: Civil Rights in North Carolina."
On Thursday, October 25, from 9 am to noon, the Friends of the Archives will sponsor "Digitizing and Remote Sharing of Family Materials" a workshop about digital preservation of family papers and photographs and the ease of sharing family information through digital formats. This workshop is free for Friends members and is $10 for non-members. Register for this event at 919-807-7310.
Starting in 2002, Home Movie Day gives families a chance to view and share their home movies and to learn how best to care for them. Local film archivists will be on hand to discuss the long-term benefits of film versus video and digital media and the role that home movies play in preserving our cultural history.
In the days before recording moving images was as easy as whipping out your cell phone, communities across North Carolina were excited by the arrival of the Camera Man, Lexington's Herbert Lee Waters. Waters, who died in 1997, made a few extra dollars during the Depression by filming local communities and then showing the films in local movie houses with an admission fee of five or ten cents. Many of these films still exist and housed in the H. Lee Waters Film Collection at Duke. Some are housed at the State Archives and are viewable online.
In 1986, The Charlotte Observer's David Perlmutt profiled Mr. Waters.
They called him the Camera Man, a one-man, traveling movie studio who wanted to put every man, woman and child in the Carolinas on the silver screen. He went from one dusty town to the next, on the road sometimes six days a week, his Pontiac loaded with clothes and camera equipment, maneuvering thousands of miles of mostly dirt stretches full of bends and ruts. In small-town theaters, his films had to compete with the likes of Bogey, Gable or Myrna Loy and Will Rogers.
But Herbert Lee Waters perhaps had a bigger draw. He filmed local people, doing local things, like working in the cotton mills and factories or marching in a Veterans Day parade in Salisbury, gabbing at the Feed Well Cafe in Roxboro and dancing outside a Great Falls, S.C., school. Then there was the local football team butting heads with the cross-county rival in York, S.C. Things that die, but never grow old.
Now, at 83, Waters - who still runs the second-floor H. Lee Waters Studio in downtown Lexington that he bought 60 years ago - is considered something of an important documentarian, at least of his day and region. His films, shot from 1936 to 1942, were simple, with no sound or story line. But they showed life as it was and the sensitivity, vibrancy and neighborly ways of Carolinas towns in the last days of the Depression.
"All of his photos and films were documents, " said Tom Whiteside, himself a filmmaker and visiting artist at Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro who has taken a recent interest in Waters's work. "His films give a very faithful document of what small towns in the Carolinas looked like 50 years ago. And they're all very personal, because one guy made them."
Waters is a wiry, gentle man who stands about 5 feet 2, still climbs the 28 stairs to his studio two at a time and often rides a Honda 400 motorcycle to get around town. Nearly a half-century later, his films are popular. And the smaller the town the better, H. Lee Waters always says. Everybody knows each other in small towns, he says. The big cities are full of strangers.
Waters seems delighted with all the attention, but humbled by the notion his films possess importance.
"I saw it as a business and I had a lot of fun doing it, met a lot of wonderful people, " he said. "I was like everybody else during the Depression looking for business. But I never gave it too much thought that my films would be valuable or important.
"I not only made a little money to make ends meet, but it seems like it has turned out to be a service to these towns."
Earlier this month, Waters's films of Great Falls were shown at the town's branch of the Chester County Public Library. People left reminiscing - many crying, said librarian Kay Evans.
"We must have had over 200 people show up, some from as far away as Spartanburg and Columbia, " Evans said. "We're a small branch library, and I had to show it four times so everyone could see it. The film has brought life back to Great Falls.
"The film is a part of history that needs to be preserved. It's got everybody talking."
It is that way everywhere in the 100 or so towns that Waters put on film. He was - and still is - primarily a still photographer, snapping portraits, group shots and wedding photos. But his studio was seeing hard times in the midst of the Depression, and a photography friend suggested he take still photos of babies and flash them on the screen between features at the local theater. Waters liked the suggestion, but thought motion pictures of local people would be a novel idea.
It was. He tried it first in the mill village of Cooleemee near Mocksville, and it worked. The local folks flocked to the theater. After that, it was just sheer hustling that brought him regional fame. He turned the studio over to his wife, Mabel, and hit the road. By 1942, Waters had shot more than 100,000 feet of film in towns like Cliffside, Concord, Kannapolis, Forest City, Mebane, Chapel Hill, Rutherfordton, Monroe and Kings Mountain in North Carolina and Chester, Rock Hill, York, Lancaster and Gaffney in South Carolina.
The early films were black and white, the last two years shot mostly in color.
Waters was born near Shelby. His parents, Tom and Gertrude Waters, were millworkers. In 1912, the family moved to Lexington, and soon he was hanging around J.J. Hitchcock's photography studio. In 1925, Hitchcock sold him the studio and thus began Waters's cinematic romance with Lexington and the Carolinas. The studio cost him $2,000, but it was ill-equipped, with no artificial lighting, not even an enlarger. For years, Waters used the light from a skylight in the back of the three-room studio and bought a monstrous enlarger that he still uses. Now he has a good set of strobes. For movies, he bought the best 16mm camera Eastman made.
Waters has built a reputation as a restorer of old, faded photographs. His studio is a clutter, dimly lit and full of street scenes, portraits and work orders and records everywhere - on the walls, taped to an antique cash register and stacked on shelves.
Waters is a meticulous record keeper. He kept a detailed ledger of all the dates and ticket sales in the towns that he filmed. For instance, at the Majestic Theater in Fort Mill, he grossed $163.85 in ticket sales and $55 in advertising on May 7, 1942. Filming was prearranged by the local theater manager, days before Waters would arrive. On site, he normally spent two days filming, staying in local boarding homes to keep down costs. He sent his film to New York for processing. And a week or so later - after he'd passed out handbills, hung up posters and urged attendance using a loudspeaker bolted to his car - the film was shown at the local theater as an added attraction. Called "Movies of Local People, " they were advertised on the glittery theater marquee alongside the Hollywood pictures.
He left the road for good when his daughter Mary Elizabeth was born in 1942.
"After Pearl Harbor, everybody had money and weren't shy about spending it, " he said. "They needed me at the studio."
Waters refuses to quit working, climbing the stairs to his studio 30 times a week. In a hallway last week, he set up the same Bell & Howell projector he used to show his films decades ago. He threaded a color film taken of a Veterans Day parade in Salisbury in 1940. As the silent movie rolled and the projector clattered, he reminisced: "The color is beautiful; it's amazing how well it's held up, " he said. "This is a grand projector. When I was on the road, I didn't see any reason to be slipshod. I wanted to have the best there was, and I wanted to make the pictures look as sharp and vivid as the boys in Hollywood did it." -- The Charlotte Observer 5/11/1986