'Twas the Season, Part 11

Christmas 1861 was clouded by the war that had erupted eight months earlier at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. What caused the American Civil War – slavery, state’s rights, an inevitable clash of incompatible economic systems – is still being debated today. But before it ended in 1865, more than 620,000 American soldiers would die.

When the January 4, 1862 issue of Harper’s Weekly was sent out to 120,000 subscribers, few Americans realized how prolonged, grim and bloody the conflict would become. Harper’s editors certainly didn’t have a clue. “A Happy New Year!” they wrote in that issue. “It can hardly fail to be that. The tempest upon our Southern horizon is already wasting itself away.”

This engraving by Winslow Homer was on the cover of Harper’s January 4 issue. It shows Union troops happily opening a crate of Christmas presents. Socks, food, books and booze are being handed out to the delighted soldiers.


'Twas the Season, Part 10

A junior executive makes merry with the secretaries at this office Christmas party in New York in 1948. If you look closely, you'll see that there are no wedding bands on anyone's fingers, so you have to wonder if the happy young guy eventually steered one of his female friends to the mistletoe.

Note the guy's tie. The 1940s were a classic era for men's ties. Hand-painted silk neckties were the style, and flamboyance and amazing geometric designs were the norm. This guy's tie, with its geometric design, was the height of fashion for the day.
The photo was shot by Cornell Capa for Life magazine.

There are a couple more episodes of "'Twas the Season" coming up, so please check back as we get closer to Christmas.


150 Years Ago, My Great-Grandfather 'Saw the Elephant" at Battle of Goldsboro Bridge

Inexperienced soldiers in the Civil War often talked of "seeing the elephant," a phrase used to describe being in battle for the first time.

But after they heard bullets whiz past them, saw what a .58-caliber rifle bullet did to human flesh and bone, and watched their friends die, those soldiers were more likely to describe combat in terms similar to General William T. Sherman's description. "War is at best barbarism," Sherman said. "Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."

My guess is that my great-grandfather, William C. Dry, was curious about seeing the elephant 150 years ago. He was 23 years old when he enlisted in the Confederate Army shortly after the Confederate government instituted a military draft in April 1862.

I've long wondered what William thought when he entered the army. People are still arguing over what that war was about, but in my opinion, the Civil War was fought because of slavery. William's family did not own slaves, so he didn't have a personal stake about whether slavery was ended.

Maybe he wanted to go fight, but the war had been going on for more than a year before he joined the Confederate Army, so he clearly did not enlist in a passion of Southern patriotism. His family farmed in Cabarrus County, and William listed his occupation as "field hand" in his enlistment papers. Without slaves to work the farm, William's absence added to the family's burden.

Whatever his thoughts about the war and why it was being fought, he had no choice after the draft went into effect.

By December 1862, he'd been in the army for about eight months. But his unit, the 52nd North Carolina Infantry, hadn't done much more than engage in endless drills and ride trains back and forth between Petersburg, Virginia and Kinston, North Carolina.

A soldier in the 52nd complained of the monotony. "We have to drill nearly all the time," Sergeant A.C. Myers wrote in a July 27, 1862 letter to his wife.

That changed in mid-December, however. At the time, William's unit was stationed on the Blackwater River near Franklin, Virginia. On December 16, the 52nd was ordered to move immediately to Goldsboro, North Carolina. The men boarded a troop train and traveled through the night to reach Goldsboro in the early morning of December 17.

They didn't have to wait long for the elephant. At sunrise, a force of about 10,000 Union troops arrived from New Bern and moved toward their objective -- a wooden railroad bridge that spanned the Neuse River. The railroad was a vital supply line to Confederate troops in Virginia.

The Union Army's plan to destroy the bridge was part of an effort to inflict a major defeat on Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee. Union forces had launched an attack against Lee at Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 11, the same day the Union troops started moving from New Bern to Goldsboro. Union commanders reasoned that if they could destroy the bridge, it would cut off supplies to the Confederates and make it easier to defeat Lee.

The 52nd was ordered to hold the bridge. But the Confederates numbered fewer than 2,000 against the much larger Union force. After about two hours of fighting, a squad of Union volunteers raced through gunfire and set the bridge ablaze.

The 52nd and other Confederate forces counterattacked, but the bridge could not be saved. Somewhere in all the fighting, William was hit in the arm.

In the Civil War, a wound to an arm or a leg often shattered bones and required the limb to be amputated. Death from such a wound was not unusual. But William was lucky. The bullet did not hit bone. He was listed among the 58 wounded in his unit, but he recovered and returned to duty. Eight men in the 52nd were killed.

The destruction of the bridge did not help the Union's effort against Lee at Fredericksburg, however. Whatever advantage gained by cutting Confederate supplies was lost when Union General Ambrose Burnside foolishly threw wave after wave of soldiers against Confederates securely entrenched behind a stone wall at the top of a hill known as Marye's Heights. Burnside's troops were slaughtered, and he was forced to withdraw from Fredericksburg.

The bridge at Goldsboro was quickly rebuilt.

For several months after the Battle of Goldsboro Bridge, the 52nd North Carolina Infantry was shuttled between eastern North Carolina and Virginia. But in early June 1863, the 52nd was assigned to General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.

A few weeks later, Lee began his fateful invasion of Pennsylvania that ended in futility at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Although the war would continue for almost two years after that battle, the Confederacy never recovered from that defeat.

The Battle of Gettysburg also marked the beginning of 18 months of misery and loss for William and his family. By the time the war ended in April 1865, William's three brothers were dead and William had barely survived more than a year in a hellish Union POW camp at Point Lookout, Maryland.

I'll be writing occasionally about my family's experiences during the Civil War Sesquicentennial, including what I've pieced together about William's experiences at Gettysburg and Point Lookout. Check back at Drye Goods for updates.


'Twas the Season, Part 9

December 1951. U.S. troops were mired in a bloody and politically unpopular war in Korea.

Among the American casualties was 20-year-old Corporal Richard E. deVilliers of the 1st Marine Batallion. He'd worked for Bell Telephone in Hayward, California before being shipped off to Korea.

He was killed in fighting near Seoul in 1950.

As a memorial to their former co-worker, a group of Bell employees in San Francisco sent Christmas packages to every member of deVilliers's unit. The grateful Marines found a South Korean tailor to create a Santa costume, turned a jeep trailer into an impromptu wheeled "sleigh," and celebrated Christmas far from home.

The above drawing depicting the Christmas 1951 celebration is from a Bell Telephone ad that was published in the December 1952 issue of Harper's magazine. If there's an artist's signature on the drawing, I couldn't find it.
Check back tomorrow for another glimpse of Christmas Past at Drye Goods.


'Twas the Season, Part 8

This is downtown Spencer, Iowa in 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression.

Times were very bad, but Spencer still managed, in a very modest way, to observe the Christmas season. How? You have to look closely for the town's seasonal decorations. There's a single strand of lights strung between streetlamps, and another strand from the roof of the Spencer Daily Reporter across the intersection to, presumably, another building or lampost on the other side of Main Street.

Click on the picture to enlarge it and get a better look at the lights.

The photo is from the website Papa Ted's Place, and was posted by Ted Althof Jr. There's no information about who shot the photo.

Check back tomorrow for another 'Twas the Season post.


'Twas the Season, Part 7

This photo of an anonymous young girl standing stiffly beside her family's Christmas tree is probably from the late 1920s or maybe the early 1930s. Things were much more formal back then. Getting your picture made was an Event and not an everyday casual occurrence. I'm guessing that sense of special occasion explains the girl's stiff pose by the tree.

Still, the young lady's stylish shingle-bob haircut is on the cutting edge of fashion for the day. The haircut became popular after fashion designer Coco Chanel and actresses Louise Brooks and Clara Bow abandoned the long hair of the demure Victorian era for a hairstyle that became identified with the new woman of the Roaring Twenties. So despite her stiff formality, she's aware of the latest fashions.

The photo is from the website Papa Ted's Place, and was posted by Ted Althof Jr. There's no info about who the girl is, or who shot the photo.

Check back tomorrow for another vintage picture from Christmases past.


'Twas the Season, Part 6

The title of this photo is "Shantyman's Christmas," and it was part of a series of photos shot for Life by George Silk in 1953.

A shantyman is a sailor who leads the crew in sing-alongs. The word is derived from the French word "chanter," which means "to sing." The Life archives don't explain why there's a reference to a "shantyman" in the photo's title. Maybe they were singing Christmas carols while they decorated the tree.

There's no info about where Silk shot this photo. I'm guessing maybe New England, but it could have been any American seaport or fishing village. What is clear, however, is that the captain and his crew or family are decorating the small craft for Christmas.

Check back tomorrow for another "'Twas the Season" post.

(NOTE: This was originally posted on Drye Goods on December 17, 2009)


'Twas the Season, Part 5

Yesterday's photo in this series showed Santa Claus with a serious public relations problem: A scared little kid who clearly wasn't happy about sitting on Santa's lap. That's a major issue for someone whose job is spreading the joy of the season.

But it looks like this Santa was up to the job. There's no record of what he said or did to calm the kid's fears, but whatever he did, it was exactly the right thing. The kid's faith in Saint Nick clearly has been restored.

The photo was shot by Frank Scherschel for Life magazine in 1946.

(Note: This entry was originally posted to Drye Goods on December 16, 2009.)


'Twas the Season, Part 4

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as Santaphobia. And it looks like this kid might be a victim of the irrational fear of Santa Claus.

But then, if you're only a toddler, it might not be so irrational to be afraid of Jolly Old Saint Nicolas. Look at it from a little kid's point of view. For starters, he’s a lot bigger than a little kid. And then there's this little ditty that you're constantly hearing: “He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good. So be good for goodness sakes!”

Yikes. The guy knows your every move and thought. And if that’s not enough to induce some deep-seated adult neuroses, there's also the fact that you can’t keep him out of your house.

So it looks like this Santa has a serious public relations problem sitting on his lap -- a little kid who did not like being picked up by a big hairy guy who knows everything about him.

So how did Santa handle it? I'll give you a hint: this Santa knows his stuff. But check back tomorrow for the answer.

Frank Scherschel shot thos photo for Life magazine in 1946.

(Editor's note: This entry was originally posted on Drye Goods on December 14, 2009.)


'Twas the Season, Part 3

This photo could be titled "The Creepy Side of Christmas." It shows an infamous and immediately recognizable dictator surrounded by his Nazi synchophants at his Christmas party in December 1941.

Christmas 1941 lacked some of the traditional joy of the season. The United States had been shocked into the war when Japan attacked the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor 71 years ago today. England had endured a savage bombing campaign by Germany that came to be known as the Blitz. Germany controlled most of Europe and seemed about to conquer the Soviet Union. Japan was dominating Asia and the Pacific.

But Christmas Day 1941 marked the peak of Axis power. Soviet troops were about to turn back the Nazi invasion. Japan's dominance of the Pacific would end six months later when the U.S. Navy inflicted a smashing defeat on the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway.

The photo was shot by Hugo Jaeger for Life magazine.

Stay tuned for more pictures of Christmases past.

(Note: This post first appeared on Drye Goods on December 12, 2009.)


'Twas the Season, Part 2

Here's a followup to yesterday's photo of the Santa seminar at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. This Santa is taking the seminar's final exam. Looks like he's working on an essay question.

The photo was made by Martha Holmes for Life magazine in 1948.

I'll be posting old Christmas photos as I come across them on the Web during the next few days.

(Editor's Note: This was originally posted on December 11, 2009)

'Twas the Season, Part 1

(Editor's note: This entry was originally posted on December 10, 2009.)
I’m browsing the Web for old Christmas photos and posting the ones I like.

This photo by Martha Holmes shows a training seminar for Santas at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The Santa Claus in charge is delivering a lecture to the student Santas. Note the ash trays in front of the students. It was a different era.

The photo was published in Life magazine in 1948.

I’ll be posting these for the next few days as I come across them. So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and all other appropriate greetings and felicitations of the season.


Growing Up at the Old Ballparks

My nephew John Morrow at the site of Ebbets
Field in Brooklyn. John was about 12 at the
time. Now he's about to start college.

John Morrow, our nephew in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, is trying to decide where he's going to college. Which isn't possible because it was only a few years ago that he was a rambunctious four-year-old who was delighted to be picked up and turned upside-down by his uncle. And I think it was about a year ago when he was ten years old and I knocked his socks off when I hit a jump-shot from the three-point-line at the basketball goal in his grandmother's driveway in Wilmington at Thanksgiving.

So they tell me he's trying to decide among colleges in upstate New York and Pennsylvania, but I'm not sure I believe it. But he sent me something a couple days ago that convinced me that he's grown into a thoughtful, articulate young man who will do well wherever he goes to college.

He wrote an essay that he will submit with his application. For his topic, John wrote about a holiday tradition that somehow developed over the years during the annual holiday trek my wife Jane, her mom and I make to Glen Ridge.

During one of those trips we visited our niece, Alice Gougan, who was living in Brooklyn at the time. John and his dad Bob are baseball fans, so while the nieces, aunts, mothers and grandmothers shopped and visited museums, I suggested the guys try to find what is regarded by many as baseball holy ground -- the former site of Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played until the team was moved to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

It took some doing, but we finally found the spot in Flatbush where the Boys of Summer played when New York was the capital of the baseball world. There wasn't much of a reminder -- a concrete, tombstone-like plaque nearly hidden by a bush, surrounded by a gigantic public housing complex.

And so began the tradition. In the holiday trips that followed over the years, we found the sites of other old baseball parks. We stood at the spot where home plate had been at the Polo Grounds, where Bobby Thomson launched "the shot heard 'round the world" in 1951. We found the site of Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City where Jackie Robinson played his first minor league game as a member of a previously all-white team. We discovered Hinchliffe Stadium, a wonderful old ruin of an Art Deco ballpark in Paterson where Negro League teams had played in the days before Robinson broke Major League baseball's color barrier.

I took a photo of John and wrote an essay about each visit. My old friend Jeff Houck in Tampa posted the Ebbets Field essay on his lively blog, Sidesalad. I posted essays and photos of the other ballpark pilgrimmages on Drye Goods.

And yes, over the years, I realized that the kid was growing up.

John remembered all that, and his college application essay explained how those trips had taught him more than just baseball history. He summed up his experience in this beautiful paragraph: "When we went looking for old baseball locations we found urban history, learned about the benefits of redevelopment and preservation and we encountered people I would never have met anywhere else. Uncle Willie embraces learning that way and I hope to do the same for the rest of my life."

So, wow, what can I say. Thanks, John. You've made me very proud. I think we can find a few more old ballparks in the Greater NY/NJ metro area in the coming years, and if we run out of ballparks to track down maybe we can start looking for old lighthouses. There are some great stories associated with them, too.

(Here are links to the essays about our visits to the old ballparks: Ebbets Field, Polo Grounds, Roosevelt Stadium, Hinchliffe Stadium. )


Young Love Cut Short by America's Fiercest Hurricane

Bascom Grooms and his sister, Rosalind
(NOTE: This story was first posted on Drye Goods for the Labor Day weekend of 2007)

On this date 77 years ago, Rosalind Grooms Palmer sat down at her typewriter in Key West, Florida and banged out a teasing, affectionate note to her 12-year-old kid brother, Bascom Grooms, who was visiting friends up the islands in the village of Tavernier.

She apologized for the brevity of the note and, perhaps to ease the guilt she felt at not writing more, enclosed 50 cents so Bascom could buy an ice cream sundae for himself and a young friend named Elizabeth. She told her brother that she’d like to be with him on Key Largo “enjoying the ‘squitoes and other varmints such as sand fleas,” but added that she wouldn’t be taking any trips for a while.

That wasn’t entirely true, but her travel plans weren’t exactly the kind she wanted to reveal to her little brother or to the family he was visiting. She would be joining her boyfriend, 19-year-old George Pepper, at the Matecumbe Hotel in Islamorada for the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

That note from Rosalind was the last communication Bascom would ever have from his sister. Five days later, she and George were killed when the most powerful hurricane in U.S. history came ashore in the Upper Keys.

Rosalind's note to her brother a few days before her death

I interviewed Bascom at his home in Key West in December 2002, when he allowed me to copy photos of him, his sister and George Pepper. The old sepia-toned photos tell a tragic story of young love that was cut short by the fiercest hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S.

Rosalind was only 21 in August 1935, but she had already been through a brief, unhappy marriage to George Palmer, a U.S. Navy officer she’d met when Palmer’s ship docked in Key West. Rosalind – young, impulsive, fun-loving and beautiful – had fallen for the Navy officer, and they were married in Key West in 1933. They moved to San Diego, where Palmer’s ship, the destroyer USS Perry, was based.

But less than two years later, Rosalind suddenly appeared in Key West and said her marriage was over. Bascom recalled that she didn’t say much about her reasons for leaving her husband and filing for divorce.

Rosalind got her old job back as a court clerk. She was considered one of Key West’s most beautiful young women, and as soon as word got out that she was no longer married, lots of eager young men sought her attention.

Rosalind didn’t take her looks too seriously, however. She thought her legs were too skinny for her to be really attractive. She loved to dress well, and white high-heel pumps became a trademark of her wardrobe.

In early 1935, she met George Pepper, and soon she was again in love. Her new boyfriend was the nephew of Claude Pepper, who was just beginning his legendary career in Florida politics.

George had gotten a job as a mess hall steward at one of the work camps that housed World War I veterans working on a New Deal construction project in the Keys. The vets were building a highway from Miami to Key West.

Rosalind and George were gaa-gaa over each other. In July 1935 they went to a photographer’s studio in Miami and posed with various props for charmingly cheesy photos.

Rosalind Grooms Palmer and George Pepper, 1935
A day or so after Rosalind wrote the note to her brother she went up to Islamorada to meet George. They shot more pictures of each other on a pier, Rosalind in a knit dress and her ubiquitous white high-heel pumps, George in a white shirt and tie and summer slacks.

Rosalind Grooms Palmer and her white
high-heel pumps
But while George and Rosalind were enjoying each other's company on that long-ago Labor Day weekend of 1935, a tropical storm crossed the Bahamas into the Florida Straits. As it crawled slowly across the bathtub-warm water of the Straits, it began rapidly intensifying. By September 2 – Labor Day Monday – it had mushroomed into a seagoing monster with sustained winds of about 185 mph and gusts that may have exceeded 200 mph. By late Monday afternoon, the worst of the storm’s winds were starting to claw at the Upper Keys.

At a veterans’ labor camp at the foot of Lower Matecumbe Key, George Pepper was instructed to use his boss’s car – a big, heavy 1934 Dodge – to take some of the veterans’ wives to safety in Miami. Sometime around 5 p.m., George and Rosalind climbed into the big automobile and set out for the short drive to the Matecumbe Hotel to pick up the women.

They never reached the hotel. For weeks, survivors and rescue workers wondered what had become of them.

They finally got a clue to the grim fates of Rosalind and George on September 18, when rescue workers found the 1934 Dodge submerged in Florida Bay, about 100 feet from shore. The storm's rising winds may have literally blown the car off the causeway. After the storm, another man who'd been driving the same road at the same time as George said a gust of wind had shoved his car into a ditch.

That same powerful gust may have pushed the Dodge into the bay.

A diver found a pair of white high-heel pumps in the submerged car, but no other sign of the young couple.
On September 19, rescue workers found Rosalind's body. The storm had hurled her onto Raccoon Key, one of the small, soggy islands that dot Florida Bay.

George’s body was found several weeks later. The storm’s ferocious winds had carried him across Florida Bay to Cape Sable at the tip of the Florida peninsula. The body was about 30 miles away from the car he'd been driving.


Isaac is Approaching the Keys

Tropical Storm Isaac is approaching the Florida Keys. The center of the storm is expected to pass over or near Key West later today.

This video was shot by Jeff Pinkus at the old Seven Mile Bridge just south of Marathon. The storm is expected to gradually strengthen in the Gulf of Mexico during the next few days as it moves to an eventual landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast later this week. Stay tuned for more video.


Friends in Florida Sending Video, Photos of Isaac

This video was shot by Jeff Pinkus, a friend of mine in Marathon, Florida. Residents in the Florida Keys are preparing for Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to cross the Keys late Sunday night or early Monday morning, move into the Gulf of Mexico, and head for an eventual landfall somewhere on the Gulf Coast later next week.
Jeff was standing on the old Seven Mile Bridge just outside Marathon when he shot this. His video shows the rising wind and northbound traffic on the new bridge leaving the Keys ahead of the storm.
I have friends in the Keys and Tampa who will be sending photos and video as Isaac approaches their area. Jeff Houck, an old friend who writes for the Tampa Tribune, is going to send photos and perhaps some video as Isaac passes Tampa in a few days, and I'll also be writing about Isaac for National Geographic News.
Check back at Drye Goods during the next few days for more Isaac pix.


Are Tar Heels Laboring Under "The Curse of Crum"?

The history of sports is filled with the colorful legends of curses that have doomed certain teams to perpetual frustration. These curses are set into motion when someone affiliated with the team does something stupid, or immoral, or unfair. For example, some believe that the Chicago Cubs have not appeared in a World Series since 1945 because an outraged fan put a curse on them after team officials wouldn't let him watch a game with his loyal but smelly goat.

So I'm wondering if University of North Carolina officials brought a curse upon the football program 25 years ago when they fired Dick Crum, who coached the Tar Heels from 1978 until 1987. Perhaps the football gods were so outraged by Crum's firing in 1987 that they decreed that UNC will never reach its coveted goal of building one of the nation's premiere college football programs without sullying its excellent academic reputation.

Tar Heel fans' hopes for joining college football's elite have been dashed repeatedly since Crum's departure. The latest blow came when former coach Butch Davis -- who had been paid a whopping salary to lead the Heels to greatness -- was fired before the start of the 2011 season after revelations of academic misconduct involving some of his players. A recent story in The News and Observer of Raleigh reported that the academic shenanigans that got Davis fired may have been going on even before he came to Chapel Hill in 2007. So there may be more unflattering revelations in the coming months, and the football program could be crippled for a long time.
But the irony of Carolina's struggle for football greatness without academic compromise is that 31 years ago, the Tar Heels were almost there under Crum, who respected academic excellence but still had his teams regularly ranked in the Top Ten.

The high-water mark of Crum's tenure at Carolina may have been November 7, 1981, when Clemson and UNC met in Chapel Hill to play one of the most important college football games in the state's history. Two schools in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- never known for fielding football powerhouses -- squared off in a contest that could decide the eventual national champion.
Clemson came into the game ranked third nationally by Sports Illustrated. A few weeks earlier, UNC had been ranked second by SI, but had slipped to sixth after a loss to South Carolina.

UNC lost the game, 10-8, before the largest crowd at that time to ever watch a football game in North Carolina. Clemson went on to become the NCAA's national champion. Carolina finished the season with a 10-2 record and was ranked eighth in SI's final poll.
Despite that deeply disappointing loss, it looked like Crum was going to lead the Tar Heels to everlasting glory. Crum, an Ohio native, was a no-nonsense guy who studied math and physics as an undergraduate. In 1981, he was in his fourth year as Carolina's football coach. Three of his teams had ended seasons ranked in the Sports Illustrated Top 20, and two of those teams had been ranked in the Top 10. His triumphs included the 1980 ACC championship and ACC Coach of the Year honors.

He also won four consecutive postseason bowl games against Michigan, Texas (twice) and Arkansas, teams that had attained the elite status that Tar Heel fans coveted.
Crum assembled those excellent teams without fudging on academics. Reporter Dan Coughlin, who covered sports for The Plain Dealer and WJW-TV in Cleveland, noted that Crum "abided by the letter of the law. He wouldn't tolerate any kind of cheating."

But Crum's teams had subpar seasons in 1984, 1985 and 1987. Critics said he was failing to recruit good players. His refusal to bend rules to admit talented athletes who weren't good students undoubtedly cost him wins. Still, even legendary college coaches such as Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes had an occasional off-season in the primes of their careers, and they kept their jobs, rebuilt their teams, and went on to more stellar seasons.
Despite the three mediocre seasons, by 1987 Crum had coached the Tar Heels to 72 wins, more than any other coach in UNC history. And his teams had won 22 of 29 games against in-state archrivals Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest.

But on November 16, 1987, two days after UNC lost by three points to Virginia in Charlottesville, Crum was told he'd be out of a job after the Tar Heels' season-ending game against Duke on November 21. Coughlin later wrote that he'd talked to Crum by phone that day and was stunned to learn that the coach who'd won more games than any other UNC football coach had been fired.
So if you're looking for a reason to believe that a curse descended on the UNC football program, there it is. Carolina officials fired the man who'd followed the rules and won more games than anybody else. Crum left town quietly. But as has been said many times, what goes around comes around, and his firing was the kind of thing that could set up quite a karmic payback somewhere down the road.

Coughlin, the reporter in Cleveland, asked Crum why he'd been canned. There are three or four variations of Crum's pithy response, but all of the versions essentially say the same thing -- administrators and alumni want UNC to play football like Oklahoma on Saturday and maintain the academic excellence of Harvard the rest of the week. It's a difficult balance to maintain, and if you're going to insist on academic excellence, you have to tolerate a few disappointing seasons occasionally.
Crum's firing also added credibility to rumors that he'd gotten on the wrong side of the Rams Club, the powerful, well-heeled private organization that provides much of the funding for UNC athletics.

Crum was succeeded by Mack Brown, who'd never had a winning season in his three years at Tulane. But UNC officials saw talent beneath Brown's losing record. His Carolina teams won only two games during his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, but by 1990 it looked like the Tar Heel football program had again found its savior. Brown's teams averaged eight wins for the next eight seasons.
Brown's success greatly pleased the Ram's Club, and to keep him happy, Kenan Stadium's capacity was expanded by about 10,000 seats and sparkling new buildings were built to house the football program.

But in 1997, soon after publicly vowing that he'd never leave Chapel Hill, Brown was hired as football coach at the University of Texas. His departure stunned many Tar Heel fans, but others said they'd suspected all along that Brown was a used-car salesman disguised as a football coach.
So here's the first example of what could be called "The Curse of Crum" coming into play: UNC hires a first-rate coach who shows potential for greatness, then that coach betrays their trust and the program is plunged into mediocrity.

Despite Brown's success at UNC, he didn't achieve the same numbers as Crum. He won three fewer games than his predecessor and never won an ACC championship. And even though three of Brown's teams won 10 games, he never got a team into one of the major New Year's Day bowl games, an achievement Carolina hasn't known since the days of Charley "Choo-Choo" Justice in the late 1940s.
Brown has become one of the premiere college coaches at Texas. His undefeated team won a national championship in 2005, and his string of postseason wins includes triumphs in the Rose, Cotton and Fiesta bowls.

Crum faded into obscurity after his dismissal from UNC. He struggled through three terrible seasons as coach at Kent State before leaving coaching after the 1990 season. Still, he was inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
Butch Davis was hired with much fanfare in 2006, but he fell well short of Crum's record. He won 63 games during his four seasons, but by then UNC was playing more regular-season games than in the 1980s and so Davis had more chances to win more games in fewer seasons. Still, his teams never won more than eight games, never lost fewer than five games, never finished higher than fourth in the expanded ACC, and went to only one minor bowl game during his tenure.

So maybe that curse is at work again. A big name coach brought in at great expense produces teams only a notch or two above mediocre, and then is fired and disgraced because he didn't take the school's academics seriously.
So new UNC coach Larry Fedora is stepping into a deeply troubled football program. He has to deal with the NCAA punishment of the UNC football program, as well as some fans who are still angry that Davis was fired. And time will tell whether he's also saddled with The Curse of Crum.

NOTE: The sketch of Dick Crum at the top of this post is from the website of the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.


The Parable of the Dugout Roof

Years ago, when I got out of the Army, I'd been conditionally accepted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The condition was that I had to earn a foreign language credit before I'd be formally accepted at UNC.

So I enrolled at Belmont Abbey College for one semester to take a French course. I decided to take a full academic load, so I also took courses in American literature, Southern literature, and astronomy.

There were several reasons why I enrolled at Belmont Abbey. First, the college actively sought veterans and gave a small tuition discount to vets. And it had a good academic reputation, and that was an inducement.

But Belmont Abbey also is a Catholic college, and like many Protestants, I was curious about Catholicism. I grew up in a small Methodist church, but, to borrow a phrase from my late friend, Jim Shumaker, I like to spread myself around ecumenically.

So I did a semester among the Benedictine monks at The Abbey. At that time, about 40 percent of the faculty was monastic. So even though the college is in Belmont, an old mill town in the heart of the Piedmont textile country, the presence of the Catholic monastery and the monks made The Abbey -- at least in my mind -- an unusual and even exotic place.

I remember a spring night when the weather suddenly changed from cold to warm, and fog rolled across the campus. I was walking back to my dorm room. In the near distance I saw two monks in their dark robes, hoods covering their heads, seeming to glide through the fog, moving from the light into the foggy darkness. It struck me that what I was seeing was something straight out of the Middle Ages. It was eerie and fascinating.

Three of my four instructors were priests, and two of those priests -- Father John Oetgen and Father Matthew McSorley -- lived in the monastery.

Father John was from Savannah and had studied at Oxford University and UNC-Chapel Hill. He taught Southern Literature, or, as he sometimes called it, "Grit Lit." He introduced me to author W.J. Cash's seminal work, The Mind of the South, a perceptive examination of Southern culture and thought that has become a classic since it was published in 1940. And Father John also introduced me to the works of Flannery O'Connor, a master of Southern gothic literature.

His command of his subject was remarkable. I recall him standing at a lectern in the classroom and giving hour-long lectures without once faltering or consulting notes.

Father Matthew, who'd earned a graduate degree in literature from Villanova University, taught the American lit course. He liked the essays I wrote in his class and encouraged me to develop my writing skills.

But I also greatly enjoyed talking to Father Matthew and the other priests about many topics. I was greatly impressed that the priests seemed to me to use reason and intellect to make their points and avoid emotion.

One spring afternoon I went for an ambling walk around the Belmont Abbey campus with Father Matthew. My experience in the Army had had a dramatic effect on how I perceived the world, and at the time I'd only been a civilian for a few months and was struggling to readjust. I wanted to get Father Matthew's take on what author Douglas Adams referred to as "life, the universe and everything" and how I fitted into this big picture.

Father Matthew listened to me talk about my doubts, uncertainties, hopes and plans as we walked along a gravel road. As we approached the college baseball field, we both fell silent for a few moments, and Father Matthew clearly was thinking about something.

He stopped along the first base side of the ballpark, which was surrounded by a low chain-link fence. "Pick up three stones," he told me. For some reason, the fact that he called them "stones" instead of "rocks" impressed me. So I picked up three stones from the gravel road. They were slightly smaller than the palm of my hand. He did the same.

"I'll bet you that you can't hit that dugout roof in three tries with those stones," he said.

I looked at him like he was crazy. The dugout was maybe a hundred feet away. The roof was a large, flat surface. I'd played baseball all my life. I didn't think I could possibly miss.

"Go ahead," he said. "I'll bet you can't do it."

He was, of course, right. Three tries, three misses. After my third throw had sailed over the dugout, Father Matthew made a clumsy, lunging, underhand toss and dropped a stone smack in the middle of the roof.

"OK," I said. "I assume there's a lesson here. What am I supposed to learn from this?"

"Well, I've done this many times with many young men," he said. "So I have the advantage of having had a lot of practice and you were trying it for the first time."

"But you were clearly concerned about how you looked when you threw those stones," Father Matthew said. "You showed beautiful form, but you missed every time. On the other hand, my technique was awkward and clumsy and not at all pretty to watch. But I hit my target.

"So the lesson here is that you should be more concerned about results and less concerned about image and appearances."

Father Matthew died two months ago at the age of 91. More than 35 years have passed since he taught me what I've come to call "The Parable of the Dugout Roof." I don't think a week has gone by since then that I haven't recalled that moment. Yet I still struggle sometimes to live up to that lesson Father Matthew taught me.

The photo at the top of this post was taken from an online posting of the 1970 edition of The Spire, the yearbook of Belmont Abbey College. It shows Father Matthew McSorley, at the far right of the photo, teaching a class at Belmont Abbey. The photographer is not identified.


Andy Griffith and the Pleasing Myth of Mayberry

I have an old friend I've known forever who, like me, is a late-middle-aged North Carolina native. He says when his time comes and he's standing at the Pearly Gates, he hopes Saint Peter says to him "Come on in. We've got two dozen black-and-white episodes of 'The Andy Griffith Show' that you've never seen."
That's the kind of impact that the late Andy Griffith had on North Carolina's psyche. Many of us aging Tar Heel Baby Boomers are hoping that the afterlife is an eternity of watching Andy, Opie, Barney, Aunt Bee and the good townsfolk of Mayberry, and never getting tired of them.

The fictional town Griffith created for his show presumably was based on his hometown of Mount Airy, a small town north of Winston-Salem near the Virginia border.  Mayberry supposedly was about 60 miles from Raleigh. In truth, however, Mayberry could have been -- and probably was intended to be -- any one of dozens of drowsy little county seats, mill towns, mountain hamlets and fishing villages across the state.
Before the state's remarkable population growth of the 1980s, North Carolina basically was one big small town. When one Tar Heel encountered another Tar Heel in another state, a conversation likely would ensue. It happened to me in Atlanta in late September1984, when I attended the Braves' last home game of the season with a friend from Chapel Hill. My friend was a transplanted Yankee from Massachusetts married to a North Carolina girl who was in law school at UNC.

It was a chilly night, and I was wearing a UNC sweatshirt as my friend and I stood in a concourse chatting before the game. A 60-ish man and his wife saw my sweatshirt. They were total strangers, but they smiled and walked over to me like they'd spotted an old friend in a crowd of strangers. The man told me where he was from and we struck up a conversation. My Massachusetts friend watched in bemused fascination. When the conversation broke up and we went to our seats, my friend was smiling and shaking his head in disbelief. "You good old Tar Heels," he said. "Never met a stranger."

And that was how Andy Griffith touched North Carolina. He tapped into that small town, back-home familiarity that was such a part of living in the state before its burgeoning growth spurt.

Anyone who grew up in Williamston, or Roxboro, or Mount Gilead, or Yadkinville or Windsor or Burgaw or Buxton or Bryson City or Albemarle knew Mayberry's colorful but ordinary residents. They were the same people who operated barber shops, gas stations and moonshine stills in our hometowns. They sang in the church choirs and coached the Little League baseball teams. They led Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops. They had similar hobbies and enjoyed similar entertainment. They canned pickles and sat on front porches playing guitars. They took pride in their skills, and even if they weren't quite as good at something as they thought they were, their neighbors didn't spoil it for them by telling them the truth. Once in a while they got drunk on a Saturday night, but they were in church, with their hangover, the next day.

They were gentle people. If they sometimes were clannish and suspicious of outsiders, they were as a rule friendly and welcoming to visitors--sometimes to their own disadvantage. They were generally well-behaved and respectful of their neighbors, though not above some occasional gossiping about them. If Mayberry residents did step out of line, government authority was represented by Sheriff Andy Taylor, an affable, joshing lawman who was a little bit smarter than he let on. He was willing to play the Southern rube when necessary, but in the end he was always there with handcuffs and a big grin after he'd outsmarted the bad guys, who usually were from out of town and often from somewhere Up North. Andy refused to carry a gun because he'd known the people he was policing all his life, and rather than use force, he wanted Mayberry residents to behave themselves because they respected the law and knew he'd treat them fairly. And Andy always seemed to know instinctively when to strictly enforce the law and when to bend the rules to be a little more accommodating of common sense and human nature.

With Andy's guidance, the people of Mayberry always figured out the right thing to do when they were confronted with one of life's moral quandaries. When Andy was wrong, he admitted it and made amends. And while Andy went to church every Sunday and often applied Biblical teachings to his law enforcement, he did not wear his religion on his sleeve. The show's religious values were in the background, always implied but seldom stated and certainly never forced on others.

 So Mayberry became North Carolina's pleasing myth, a flattering fun-house mirror whose distorted reflection made us look a little better than we really were. The state felt so good about the image crafted by Andy Griffith that a statue of Sheriff Taylor and his son Opie walking to the fishin' hole was erected on public grounds in downtown Raleigh. It was an honor usually reserved for war heroes and beloved statesmen.

Like all myths, this one is truthful enough to endure. But a myth ultimately is false, and there are holes in the Mayberry myth if you care to look for them.

"The Andy Griffith Show" first aired on CBS in 1960 at the beginning of a decade that became more tumultuous with each passing year. But the dramatic changes wrought by assassinations, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War didn't touch Mayberry. Edgier, topical new comedies such as "All In The Family" reflected the tensions of the early days of the culture wars.
"The Andy Griffith Show" ended in 1968 as the turbulent decade was reaching its crescendo. By this time the show was being broadcast in color, but it was a pale imitation of its black-and-white glory. Don Knotts -- the brilliant but troubled actor who played the officious, bumbling Deputy Barney Fife -- left the cast after the fifth season. Without Barney to stir the pot with his good-intentions-gone-bad, the show's stories and characters settled into a saccharine blandness. Hence my old friend's hope that the episodes he sees in the afterlife will be in black-and-white and include Barney.

Still, if the show's later episodes aren't as memorable as those first five black-and-white seasons, I don't think Andy Griffith's legacy is in any danger of fading. A few days ago, my cousin Judy and I rode up to Mount Airy to get a pork chop sandwich at the Snappy Lunch -- mentioned in at least one episode -- and soak up the Mount Airy/Mayberry ambience.
Mount Airy ignored their famous hometown son for decades. The town could afford that while its economic base was still healthy. But textile mills and furniture factories closed and jobs dried up. And Mount Airy finally realized that it was ignoring a gold mine.

So the town's Main Street has become essentially a Mayberry theme park that is pulling in a steady stream of visitors. As Judy and I were leaving the Snappy Lunch, a tour bus began unloading passengers who gathered outside the restaurant's entrance. Meanwhile, dozens of tourists browsed the Main Street shops, most of which had displays related to "The Andy Griffith Show."

So it's clear that people in North Carolina and beyond still want to believe the myth of Mayberry. They want to believe that somewhere there's a charming little town where people solve their problems by using a few simple rules, some common sense, and a loyal and abiding affection for their neighbors.
So what if there's no such thing as Mayberry? "The Andy Griffith Show" wasn't a documentary about life in small town America. I'm not the first person to say this, but I think it was a classic morality play gently urging us to try to be a little better in our daily lives. Mayberry is what we could be if we'd just try a little harder.

The photo at the top of this post shows Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith), and Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) in a scene from "The Rehabilitation of Otis," which aired on 'The Andy Griffith Show' in 1964.


On Memorial Day, Remembering An Ironic Wartime Tragedy

Lieutenant Harold Winecoff with other U.S. Navy fighter pilots during World War II. Winecoff is third from the left in the second row. The photo probably was made in Vero Beach, Florida in 1944.

On September 27, 1944 U.S. Navy Lieutenant Harold Winecoff, a farm boy who grew up near Rockwell, North Carolina, climbed into the cockpit of his Grumman F6F-5 "Hellcat" fighter plane. He and three other pilots aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin were beginning their shift of combat air patrol, an airborne version of guard duty.

The Franklin was supporting the U.S. invasion of the Palau Islands east of the Philippines. Winecoff and the other pilots in his squadron had been in the thick of the fighting against Japanese forces since American troops had gone ashore on September 15.

On this day, they would stay aloft for several hours patrolling the skies over the U.S. invasion force. Since all Japanese aircraft on the islands had been destroyed before the invasion, however, the likelihood of getting into a fight was low. But long-range Japanese patrol planes were scouring the seas for the American task force.

The Franklin fighters didn't encounter any enemy aircraft that day. Still, something went terribly wrong for Winecoff. He did not return from the patrol. His death was one of those tragic ironies of war that happen simply because a serviceman has to follow orders.

I came across the odd story of Winecoff's death in 1970 when I was visiting Winecoff's nephew, who was living in his grandmother's house near Rockwell. It was the same house where Winecoff had grown up, and my friend's grandmother was Winecoff's mother. She had moved to Florida, and was allowing her grandson to live in the house while he attended nearby Pfeiffer College.

Winecoff's grief-stricken mother had kept boxes full of letters, photos, and other possessions belonging to her son that the Navy had sent to her after her son's death. My friend said I was welcome to look through them. I took home a couple boxes of the mementoes, and spent a few days poring over them. The boxes told the story of Harold Winecoff's life.

Harold Winecoff at his home near Rockwell, N.C.,
sometime before his death in September 1944.
After graduating from what was then Appalachian State Teachers College in 1937, Winecoff had taught and coached basketball at Waco High School, between Salisbury and Shelby. He enlisted in the Navy in November 1941 and earned his pilot's wings in 1942.

Winecoff was a flight instructor for two years at Pensacola Naval Air Station, and the boxes contained letters from friends he'd known in Brewton, Alabama, a small town just north of Pensacola.

In May 1944, he was assigned to a fighter squadron aboard the USS Franklin.

The boxes also contained a letter written in 1946 by Hubert Weidman, one of Winecoff's shipmates, to his sister, explaining how Winecoff had died.

While Winecoff and the other three pilots were on patrol, Weidman wrote, they were ordered to investigate an unidentified aircraft that had appeared on the Franklin's radar screen. Navy commanders couldn't take the chance that this was an enemy search plane that might discover the American task force. So Winecoff and the three other fighter pilots were ordered to climb and go after this airplane at top speed.

But a towering thundercloud lay between the Navy pilots and the suspicious airplane. Weidman, the group leader, knew it was dangerous to fly through the thunderhead because such clouds often contain powerful, turbulent wind and hail that could wreck the planes. But it would take time to fly around the cloud, and the delay would allow the unknown plane to get closer to the American fleet.

So Weidman decided that he and the other pilots would fly through the thunderhead. The four Hellcats disappeared into the big cloud. Only three emerged. Winecoff's plane was missing. But Weidman couldn't delay the mission to search for Winecoff. The Hellcats sped on to find the intruder.

The mystery airplane turned out to be an American B-24 bomber. After identifying the plane, Weidman and the two other pilots hastily returned to where Winecoff had disappeared.

Other planes from the Franklin joined the search. But no sign of Harold Winecoff or his plane were found, Weidman wrote.

I put aside the boxes of letters and mementoes with the intention of returning them to my friend in Rockwell. Not long after I brought the boxes home, however, my friend's house burned down.

I stuffed the boxes into a closet and forgot about them. I came across them years later. By this time my friend had moved away and I'd lost touch with him. I took the stuff with me when my wife and I moved to Florida in late 1991.

Soon after our move, I met Sam Rhodes, who'd served aboard the USS Franklin and had retired to Jensen Beach. With his help, I contacted Ted Engdahl, who'd been a fighter pilot on the Franklin and was one of Harold Winecoff's best friends. Engdahl, a retired school teacher, was living near Winter Haven.

Engdahl had had the sad task of packing up Winecoff's belongings and sending them to his family in Rockwell. During the next few years I visited Engdahl several times and played some golf with him. I also interviewed him for a story that was published in the Salisbury (N.C.) Post on the 50th anniversary of Winecoff's death on September 27, 1994.

Engdahl said Harold Winecoff was a quiet man with a dry wit and a "sneaky" sense of humor. He enjoyed smoking good cigars and reading, Engdahl said.

Engdahl played volleyball with Winecoff on the Franklin's hangar deck on that fateful day. Later, he'd watched when his friend took off from the Franklin on the patrol mission.

Winecoff and the other pilots were flying into treacherous weather. The ship's regimental history, Big Ben the Flattop: The Story of the USS Franklin, includes a few paragraphs about Winecoff's death. The patrol flew into a "heavy squall" and one fighter didn't emerge. "Hopelessly the search planes scoured the area, but no trace of Lt. Wade H. Winecoff, a country boy from North Carolina, was ever found," the regimental history said.

With Engdahl's help, I contacted Vernon Osborne, who'd been one of the pilots flying with Winecoff the day he died. Osborne remembered flying into that squall. The turbulent winds nearly destroyed all four Hellcats, he said.

"It almost threw all of us into the ocean," Osborne recalled. "You can't fly in those things. You can't see anything in there. It's like flying into a hurricane."

Engdahl thought that the turbulence had thrown Winecoff's plane into a spin. While the Hellcat was one of the best Navy fighter planes of World War II, Engdahl recalled that it could be a death trap if it went into a spin. "You get into a spin and you're probably done for," he said. "You're never going to come out of it."

If Winecoff's plane did go into an uncontrollable spin, it would have crashed into the ocean and could have been traveling at 500 or 600 mph, killing Winecoff instantly.

The fact that Harold Winecoff died because of an unidentified American plane adds a cruel twist of irony to his death, but Engdahl said such events are part of war. There was no way to know if the plane was a friend or a foe, and it had to be identified, he said.

In 1994, Harold Winecoff's brother, John, was still living near Rockwell and saw my story in the Salisbury Post. During the Thanksgiving holiday of 1994, I returned Harold Winecoff's possessions to his brother.