The vast new exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History, covering 14,000 years in North Carolina, would have been a dream come true for Frederick Augustus Olds, the "father" of the museum.
Born in 1853, Olds later wrote about visiting the camps of Civil War soldiers when he was a child. He served in the State Guard in the 1870s under Governor Zeb Vance, where he came to be called Colonel. He became a reporter for the Raleigh News, and after it merged with the Observer to become The News and Observer, he served as city editor.
While journalism provided his income, Olds developed another interest that was to become his life's work as well as his recreation. On a volunteer basis, he began collecting historical materials for the state Museum [in the old Agriculture Building, current location of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences]. By the turn of the century he had accumulated so many items that a special section of the museum was designated the Hall of History.
Then, when in 1914 the historical collection was transferred to the N.C. Historical Commission, Colonel Olds went along. During the next 30 years of his service, the Hall of History grew to more than 30,000 items, nearly all of them collected by him.
But the colonel was more than a collector: he was an interpreter who captivated audiences, particularly school children. Not content to have them come to Raleigh to see him, he traveled over the state. From 1922 to 1924, he toured all of the 100 counties and visited 392 schools. -- The News & Observer 11/22/1984
Olds was a fixture in Raleigh, giving tours of the city to countless tourists and school children.
Soldier, historian, writer and true friend of people, Colonel Olds, who for decades has been as much a part of Raleigh as the historic State Capitol, has devoted the majority of his spare time -- and many business hours -- to lecturing to school children on North Carolina history and the natural wonders of the land.
Colonel Olds is never happier than when, surrounded by a group of children, he makes his way around Raleigh to the Capitol Building, the State department buildings, the museum, Andrew Johnson's home and other interesting spots.
He used to be know as the champion out-of-doors man in these parts. He could outwalk everyone. For many years, he conducted camps on North Carolina's coast during the summer months. Sometimes he would take the campers -- usually school children -- to the majestic Blue Ridge ranges.
Colonel Olds took an early to an interest in the youth of the State. He organized the "Raleigh Sunshiners" in 1903 and later that club became the nucleus for Boy and Girl Scout organizations here.
His interest in children has never diminished. Today, he will stop whatever task he is engaged in and lead them on tours of the capital city. -- The News & Observer 10/29/1933
At age 78, Olds gave some of his opinions to a newspaper reporter.
He is still sprightly and active. He has lived long, and he has enjoyed living. He will tell you so. He will tell you that people -- youth and age -- are what makes life worth while. He denies that the country is headed for hell, as many writers bemoan, yet --
"What is your attitude toward the machine age, Colonel Olds?"
"I loathe it! Machinery is not very near to God. People are living too fast -- that has become a commonplace saying ... No, I do not anticipate any great catastrophe, abruptly wiping out our present civilization."
He thinks people have softened. They have forgotten the spirit of '65.
"There is no question but that we are on the decline, but that does not prove we'll drop over the precipice. If people will fill their craws with sand -- and fight for better things -- the world will improve. If we continue to whine and jump frantically from our own shadows, we are doomed. Our people in this State haven't half the grit they had in 1865." -- The News & Observer 6/21/1931
Olds' later years were visited by sadness. By 1905, his wife and two sons had died. In 1934, he was forced to retire after a "breakdown" in his own health.
He was carried on the State pay roll for the regulation period of sick leave. Now, he is a patient in the State Hospital here where no charge is made to him.
State laws do not allow pensions for employees except by special act of the legislature. It is expected that some action will be taken at the next General Assembly to recognize Col. Olds' long service. -- The News & Observer 10/3/1934
Olds died at the State Hospital on July 2, 1935 at age 81. Historian H.G. Jones wrote, "At the burial in Oakwood Cemetery the next day, not a single relative was present. Nor were there any of the hundreds of thousands of children whom he had charmed. They were kept away by the polio epidemic."