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Welcome to Year Three!

Today marks the start of our third year of the This Day in North Carolina History project. As we pass this milestone, all of us at the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources want to extend our thanks for your continued support of our efforts and to let you know about a few exciting things coming up.

229216501First, we’re happy to announce that beginning November 1, you can see the stories we tell on this blog across the state on Time Warner Cable News. The stories will run in an abbreviated format several times throughout the day, usually right before and after commercial breaks.

We also want to let you know that while you may have seen some of the stories we tell this year before, we’ll continue to bring you as much fresh content as we can. To that end, if you have ideas for stories that we haven’t yet covered, tell us about it. We’ve set up a nifty form on our website that makes submitting an idea easy.

Last thing—we’ve tried to be consistent in tagging each post with the city and county of the event or the person we’re covering and with relevant subjects, so we encourage you to use the search feature to discover more interesting tidbits about your hometown or county, or about the subjects that interest you most.

Thanks again for following us! We hope you enjoy reading these posts each day as much as we enjoy researching and writing them.

Fairgrounds Hosted Last NASCAR Race on Dirt Track

A NASCAR race on a dirt track during the 1960s. The number 43 car belongs to
Richard Petty. Image from NASCAR.

On September 30, 1970, the last NASCAR race on a dirt track was held in Raleigh at the State Fairgrounds, Richard Petty took away the day’s top prize, in what was billed as the Home State 200.

Dirt track racing appeared in the South just prior to World War I. When the N.C. State Fair moved to its present site in 1928, the increasingly popular sport came with it. As a premier venue with access to fairgoers from across the state, the speedway boosted the racing phenomenon.

The half-mile track has only seen three NASCAR events in its history. The first was held in 1955, but was called due to rain while Junior Johnson was leading. The next one was fourteen years later in 1969, which James Hylton won. The last was the 1970 event, though the grandstand remains and sections of the old track are used each October.

Safety concerns were the main reason more modern, paved tracks replaced their dirt counterparts, the remains of some of the old ones still dot the Carolinas, with saplings poking through the stands and undergrowth overtaking sites where stock car racing had its start.

Other related resources:

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

Circus Tragedy in Charlotte, 1880

A preserved Chief visits the University of Cincinnati after his death.
Image from the University of Cincinnati.

On September 27, 1880, Chief, a performing elephant, killed his trainer, John King, in Charlotte.

The John Robinson Circus, of which Chief was a part, had arrived in Charlotte that day with two shows planned. Crowds of spectators were camped out near the circus, anticipating the next day’s shows. Many of them witnessed the horrifying events of that evening.

John King’s grave marker in Charlotte. Image from the University of Cincinnati.

Chief, a large male elephant, charged his keeper and smashed the man into a railcar, mangling him to the point that he was dead within minutes. The elephant then charged away from the scene, chased by circus workers who finally caught and lassoed him to an older, female elephant named Mary. Mary appeared to grasp the enormity of the younger elephant’s deed and beat him with her trunk as they were returned to the circus grounds.

King was buried in Elmwood Cemetery with the circus band playing and two other circus elephants in attendance. For the grave, Confederate veteran Billy Berryhill carved an obelisk monument with an elephant in the shaft.

Chief never worked in the circus again, although he remained with them and marched in the parades until he was exiled to the Cincinnati Zoo. Unfortunately, he did not curb his murderous ways and, after killing several other keepers, Chief was killed himself.

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

Bearded Brinkley Buried at Buladean

Image from the State Archives.

On September 21, 1850, Sam Brinkley, who became known for one of the world’s longest beards in the early 20th century, was born near Burnsville in Yancey County.

As an adult Brinkley stood at 6 feet, two inches with a beard that measured in at 5 feet, 4 inches at its peak length. Notoriety came with the remarkable growth of his beard. He began by exhibiting it to the curious, and he went on tour with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. He reportedly earned thousands of dollars by charging people to see his beard, which he kept tucked in a pouch.

Brinkley was a late bloomer when it came to facial hair. According to newspaper accounts, until he was 21, he had no real beard to shave. By 23, the growth had reached the astounding rate of a full beard in a week’s time. One article reported that the beard was entirely natural, not the result of restorers or invigorators. Another called it “soft and beautiful.” For decades Brinkley was known as the world’s expert on the cultivation of beards.

He died in 1929 from complications of tonsillitis, and he is buried at Buladean in Mitchell County with a striking photo featuring his legendary beard recessed into his tombstone.

Other related resources

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

“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.

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 Facebook and Twitter.

“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.

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

Dirty Dancing Filmed at Lake Lure

August21On August 21, 1987, the blockbuster movie Dirty Dancing was released in theaters across the country.

Though set at a resort in the Catskills Mountains of Upstate New York, Dirty Dancing was shot entirely in Virginia and North Carolina. The filming came to the Southeast almost by accident. When the crew began production in September 1986, they found all the resorts in the New York mountains were closed, so they headed South.

Many of the film’s most famous scenes, including the “lake lift” scene where Patrick Swayze lifts Jennifer Grey in the water, and the shots of Grey practicing her moves to the song “Wipe Out” on the stairs on a mountainside were shot at Lake Lure. The nearby Rumbling Bald Resort’s golf course was used for the scene where Grey asks her dad for money, and the Esmeralda Inn was used for interior dance shots.

In 2010, the town of Lake Lure decided to begin celebrating its close association with the smash hit by hosting the Dirty Dancing Festival. Now an annual event, the festival draws thousands to Rutherford County each August to commemorate the now classic film and raise money for pancreatic cancer research.

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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