As the summer festival season gears up, we take a look at one of North Carolina's best known. The National Hollerin' Contest, held each year in Spivey's Corner, will move to September this year to become part of the Hollerin' Heritage Festival. Writer Joel Haas gives us a look back at the early years when it was known simply as the Spivey's Corner Hollerin' contest.
Leonard Emmanuel, 67, a retired farmer from Godwin, shuffled up to the microphone ... and cut loose a high, piercing screech to win the third annual Spivey's Corner Hollerin' contest.
Emmanuel's bespeckled, frail figure, clad in fading khaki, also hollered the hymn "Amazing Grace" for the crowd of 1,500.
He was the best hollerer in last year's contest in a poll held by the Voice of America radio listeners....
Judges for the contest included Thad Eure, secretary of state; C. T. West, the governor's press secretary; Henry Miller, representative of the governor of South Carolina; and Voice of America's director, Phil Ervin. ...
Nobody had any caterpillars to show off when Agriculture Commissioner Jim Graham said it was "caterpillar pickin' time," so the issue as to who's the prettiest caterpillar in Sampson county is still undecided.
The biggest foot contest and "possum pickin'" took place as planned. Jenny Strickland of Dunn had the biggest foot entered. The 11-year-old wears size 11 shoes.
"I hope I don't wear size 12 when I'm twelve," she said.
The possum picked was named "And Clyde." Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Jackson of Dunn had entered a brother and sister team of possums named Bonnie and Clyde.
One man lounged about the stage with a possum clinging precariously to his hat. Hordes of small children swarmed over the stage while the judges dutifully examined each "critter."
Jim Graham was trying to keep order. His voice rang out once, "Son, git yo' hand out of that possum cage! He'll bite your finger plumb off!"
When the main event got underway, namely the national hollerin' match, there were all shapes and sizes to be found among the contestants. They were farmers who told, and then demonstrated, how they holler to their dogs or their pigs. There were even college students who hollered.
The state hollerin' champ from West Field, Ind., a barber named Bill Dennis, was on hand to show off his Hoosier yell.
Mrs. Mary Ann Yopp, of Raleigh was the only woman who entered. She let loose her "tomato growing" holler. It (what else) makes her tomatoes grow every night, she says.
Joe Freeman Britt from Robeson County explained various moonshiners' yells to the crowd. He ought ot be familiar with them -- he's the county prosecutor as he explained just before he left the stage.
The Spivey's Corner Volunteer Fire Department, sponsor of the event, sold barbecue, ran watermelon rolling contests and invited Army paratroopers to demonstrate the folding of parachutes.
In addition, James E. Gray of LaGrange, North Carolina state bird calling champion, whistled his art that he said he learned as a child. He can imitate at least 75 birds, not to mention dogs, lions and other animals.
The hollerin' was the main event, however. In the warmups, some of the contestants sounded like a cross between a locomotive whistle and a hound dog baying at the moon, while others were good approximations of what you'd expect from a man falling off a cliff.
To most people, hollerin' is what you do naturally when you spill coffee in your lap or slam a car door on your finger.
But out in the country, where one can make all the noise he wants without being evicted from his apartment, hollerin' is almost an art.
Before Alexander Graham Bell and his followers laced the country together with telephone wires, hollerin' was a necessary means of communication.
A man plowing in the back 40 could let out a loud enough holler to let his wife know when to put the cornbread in the stove.
And in times past when people lived farther apart, people in rural North Carolina used to holler at set times every day, letting neighbors living up to two miles away know they were all right. Distinctive shouts echoed through the hills in the evenings, and if one was missing, his neighbors would hitch up a horse and check on him.
The hollerin' contest began ... as the brainchild of Dunn Banker Ermon Godwin Jr., and in 1970, the contest aroused so much attention that the Voice of America borrowed the tapes, played them overseas and started the international contest.
-- The News & Observer 6/20/1971