“Human Spider” Inspired Classic Harold Lloyd Film

Srother scales a building in downtown Los Angeles

On September 1, 1896, Bill Strother, who became nationally acclaimed as the “Human Spider,” was born in Wayne County.

Strother acquired his nickname in Kinston in 1915. Frustrated that handbills he ordered to advertise a real estate auction he was organizing did not arrive in time, Strother indicated to a fellow diner at a lunch counter that he’d now have to climb the courthouse walls to advertise the sale. The diner, who happened to be the editor of the Kinston Free Press, published a story about the proposed climb and thousands showed up to watch.

The PR stunt worked, and that day Strother sold a fortune in real estate, while also unknowingly launching his career as the Human Spider. For a while Strother only climbed buildings to advertise real estate sales, but in December 1917 he began climbing just for climbing’s sake.

In 1922, silent film star Harold Lloyd saw Strother climb a building in Los Angeles. The chance meeting resulted in movie called Safety Last!, in which Lloyd’s character climbed a building to win over a girl. Strother played Lloyd’s friend “Limpy” Bill in the 1923 release. He continuing climbing buildings across the country before retiring after a fall in 1930.

Strother died in a car accident in 1957.

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Dorton Arena Architect Matthew Nowicki

Nowicki. Image from NCSU Libraries.

On August 31, 1950, architect and designer Matthew Nowicki, best known for engineering the landmark Dorton Arena on the State Fairgrounds, died in a plane crash. He was returning from a trip to India where he was engaged in planning the new Punjab capital city of Chandigarh. He had sketched the building’s preliminary drawings just before his departure.

A Polish immigrant to the U.S., Nowicki and his wife were members of the founding faculty of N.C. State’s School of Design. He became involved in the Dorton Arena project after one of his colleagues at State introduced him to N.C. State Fair Manager J. S. Dorton, who sought to make the fair the most modern in the world.

After his death, Nowicki‘s wife, Siasia, teamed up with Raleigh architect William Dietrick to realize his vision. Upon its completion, the designers were recipients of the first American Institute of Architects Honor Award in 1953, and Dorton Arena was recognized as a National Civil Engineering Landmark.

The structure was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 for its exceptional national significance only 21 years after its construction.

Though remembered mainly for his work on Dorton, the project was only one of Nowicki’s masterpieces. Before his work on the Raleigh stadium, Norwicki was well-known for designing several public structures in Poland, helping to rebuild the greater Warsaw area after World War II and working on the team that designed the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Other related resources:

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Astronaut William Thornton and the Space Shuttle Challenger

Thornton conducting research on the Challenger space shuttle.
Image from the State Archives.

On August 30, 1983, Faison native William Thornton barrelled into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard the shuttle Challenger.

Born in Duplin County, Thornton received bachelors and medical degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and worked as electronics engineer before entering the Air Force. It was during his two-year tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force that he became involved in space medicine research and subsequently applied for astronaut training.

After being selected as a scientist-astronaut by NASA in August 1967, Thornton worked on a number of Skylab simulation missions and spent decades doing research work. Two of his primary areas of focus were measuring mass (weight) in space and the reaction of the human body to conditions in space.

Thornton holds more than 35 patents that range in subject from military weapons systems to the first real-time EKG computer analysis. Among other things, he developed a treadmill for in-flight exercise and designed the first mass measuring devices for space, which remain in use today.

A veteran of two space flights, Thornton has logged over 313 hours in space. After serving as a mission specialist on the shuttle Challenger in 1983, he held the same role on Challenger’s 1985 mission. He retired from NASA in 1994.

In 2010, Thornton donated his priceless collection of documents and photos from his work in medical research, physics, electronics, the military and space to the State Archives.

Connie Guion, Pioneering Female Physician

On August 29, 1882, pioneering physician Connie Guion was born on a plantation near Lincolnton.

Educated at Wellesley College and Cornell Medical School, Guion interned at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital during the flu epidemic of 1918 after earning her medical degree. Her success in a time of crises there gained her a national reputation in medicine at a time when few women entered the field.

For almost 50 years she was associated with the Cornell medical clinic, where she became a full professor in 1946. Known for working 12-hour days until her retirement at age 87, the New York Herald Tribune called her the “greatest lady of our time.”

At her death in 1971, Dr. Guion was the dean of the nation’s women physicians. The first female professor of clinical medicine at an American university, the first female member of the medical board of New York Hospital and the first living female doctor for whom a major hospital building was named, Guion was a true pioneer for women in the medical field.

She visited her native state often and is buried in Charlotte.

Other related resources:

  • Resources related to medical history from the State Library
  • Resources related to women’s history from the State Library

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“Brad’s Drink” Becomes Pepsi-Cola, 1898

Caleb Bradham’s daughter, Mary, poses with an early Pepsi poster, circa 1905-1910. Image courtesy of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

Caleb Bradham’s daughter, Mary, poses with an early Pepsi poster, circa 1905-1910. Image from the N.C. Museum of History.

On August 28, 1898, “Pepsi-Cola” got its name.

Beginning in 1893, New Bern pharmacist Caleb Bradham developed and began serving a carbonated drink he called “Brad’s Drink.” He served the beverage from the soda fountain in his pharmacy at the corner of Pollock and Middle Streets.

As a pharmacist who had undergone some medical training, Bradham believed in the health, energy and digestive benefits of his sweet and bubbly brew, which originally included the enzyme pepsin and the cola nut. It is likely that these ingredients resulted in the renaming of the drink, although at some point pepsin was removed from the formula.

After the renaming, Bradham managed to purchase the trade name “Pep Cola” from a New Jersey company and, in 1902, he incorporated the Pepsi-Cola Company under North Carolina law. Shortly thereafter he registered a patent for the formula.

From there the business quickly grew. By 1910, the beverage was being bottled at more 300 companies in 24 states. A combination of factors including fluctuations in sugar prices and supply, imperfect bottling technology and poor marketing resulted in a failing business after World War I, and Bradham was forced to sell the company.

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Tragedy at Bostian Bridge, 1891

The wreck at Bostian Bridge. Image from the State Archives.

On August 27, 1891, one of the worst train wrecks in North Carolina occurred at the Bostian Bridge, two miles west of Statesville.

In the wee hours of the morning, a westbound passenger train jumped the tracks and hurtled off the 60-foot high bridge. At the bottom of the fall, seven train cars crashed into Third Creek. A few of the passengers walked into Statesville for help. Others crawled out of the wreckage, dazed and confused, while some wandered around. Still others sat on top of the train cars until help arrived.

When that help did come in the form of Statesville townspeople, the group began to pull and cut people out of the wreckage. Since the water in the creek was high, some of the injured drowned. By dawn a large crowd of townspeople had arrived and began to move the dead and wounded into town.

The dead were laid out in the Farmers’ Tobacco Warehouse. Twenty passengers were killed outright and nine were seriously injured. About 20 more received minor injuries.

The Bostian Bridge train wreck has been the subject of many ghost hunting expeditions, as a ghostly specter of the train is said to be seen each year on the anniversary of the tragedy.

Other related resources:

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David Schenck and the Battleground at Guilford Courthouse

Schneck. Image from the National Park Service.

On August 26, 1902, David Schenck, the “father” of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, died.

Born in 1835 in Lincolnton, Schenck and his family moved to Greensboro for his job as a lawyer for the company that became Southern Railway.

Schenck became immersed in local history almost immediately after moving to the area, and he showed a special interest in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He traversed the ground with locals, inquiring as to the specific pieces of property associated with the 1781 engagement. He knew that, if the battlefield was not protected, it would be lost to encroaching development.

In 1886, he recorded in his diary that he decided to buy the land to, in his words, “redeem the battlefield from oblivion,” and the same day he purchased 30 acres of the battlefield to achieve that end.

The following year Schenck organized the Guilford Battle Ground Company. Although he died in 1902, the organization carried on and, through its actions, the battleground was donated to the U.S. Department of Interior, which organized it as the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in 1917.

The battlefield was the first from Revolutionary War to be protected by the federal government. The Guilford Battleground Company, as Schenck’s organization is known today, continues to purchase property associated with the site and donate it to the National Park Service.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

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