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“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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“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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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.

Diminutive Circus Duo Retired to Salisbury

John and Mariah Nail Mertz, circa 1883. Image from the Davie County Public Library.

John and Mariah Nail Mertz, circa 1883. Image from the Davie County Public Library.

On August 16, 1883, circus performers John Mertz and Mariah Elizabeth Nail were married on the stage of the Buckingham Theater in Louisville, Kentucky.

According to one story, the justice of the peace asked if they were old enough to wed because they were so small, with Mariah standing at 36 inches and John only about 10 inches taller. At the time they married, they were both around 30-years-old.

Nail was born in Mocksville in 1852. Her husband, Mertz, also known as “Major,” was born in Austria or Hungary around 1853. At age 21 he joined the circus, where he met Nail. After a long career of touring with several circuses, the pair retired from circus life sometime around 1911 and made their home in Salisbury. Mertz worked in Salisbury as a store clerk at T. F. Kluttz & Co., among other job.

The couple quickly became famous in Salisbury and has continued to live on in the community’s memory. Nail passed away at age 69 in 1922. Mertz died in 1938 at age 85. They are both buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.

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.

Couple Immortalized on V-J Day

V-J Day in Times Square. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

V-J Day in Times Square. Photo by
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

On August 14, 1945, Life magazine photographer Albert Eisenstaedt captured the spirit of celebration of the United States’ victory over Japan in World War II in an iconic photograph of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square.

The sailor had been running down the street kissing random women when he was spotted by Eisenstaedt, who snapped a few quick pictures when he grabbed a nurse in white nearby. Because of the chaos in the streets Eisenstaedt did not have time to get the names of the couple.

Many people have claimed to be the sailor or the nurse over the years, but North Carolina native Glenn McDuffie went to lengths to prove that he was the kissing sailor. Tired of disputes as to the sailor’s identity, McDuffie asked Lois Gibson, a forensic artist with Houston Police Department, whether she could make a positive identification.

Glenn McDuffie with a Navy photo of himself during World War II and V-J Day in Times Square

In 2007, Gibson, who also compared the photo with those of several other kisser-claimants, reported that McDuffie’s features were an exact match to those of the sailor in the photograph. He enjoyed several years of celebrity, being invited to fundraisers and veterans’ events.

Born in Kannapolis in 1927, McDuffie was 15 years old when he forged documents to join the Navy. He died in 2014 in Texas.

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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.

Legendary Percy Flowers, “King of the Moonshiners”

A 1951 moonshine bust in Johnston County. Image from the State Archives.

On August 2, 1958, the Saturday Evening Post profiled Percy Flowers of Johnston County, labeling him the “King of the Moonshiners.” Throughout his career, Flowers managed to stay just out of reach of the law and developed a reputation as a local Robin Hood.

Born in 1903, Flowers grew corn and tobacco on his nearly 5,000 acres, like many others in region did. Unlike most others, he began to use some of his corn for making illegal liquor, concealing the stills and spirits in his tobacco barns.

Flowers’ first brush with the law came in 1935 when he and his brothers assaulted a federal treasury agent. His brothers served time for the incident, but Flowers was sprung after only three days when a judge stayed his sentence. His attorney argued that 22 sharecropper families were dependent on Flowers for their livelihood.

A bigger bust came in 1957 when agents searched and padlocked his store, seizing his safe and its contents which reputedly included large amounts of cash. The jury deadlocked over the charges but the judge found Flowers guilty of contempt for publicly berating another agent in the courthouse lobby. Six months in the federal penitentiary followed, the longest sentence he faced.

Flowers farmed well into the 1970s, and he died in 1982.

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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.

A Possum is Pardoned by Governor Scott

Slow Poke is granted clemency in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh in July 1970. Left to right: Gov. Bob Scott, Tom Ellis, "Miss Possum" Margaret Ann Wilkes and Larry Barnes of the state Wildlife Resources Commission. Image from the State Archives.

Slow Poke is granted clemency in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh in July 1970. Left to right: Gov. Bob Scott, Tom Ellis, “Miss Possum” Margaret Ann Wilkes and Larry Barnes of the state Wildlife Commission. Image from the State Archives.

On July 31, 1970Slow Poke the Possum was granted executive clemency by Governor Bob Scott in a ceremony at the State Capitol.

Slow Poke was an ordinary opossum who won a “prettiest possum” competition at the Spivey’s Corner Hollerin’ Contest in 1970. The winning possum was to be given to the governor, and on July 16, Slow Poke, his owner, hollerin’ champ H. H. Oliver and beauty contest winner Margaret Ann Wilkes, visited Scott. When Wilkes confided to the governor that she had never eaten possum, Scott immediately invited her to a possum banquet in the Executive Mansion with Slow Poke as the main course.

Hundreds of calls and letters from an indignant public protested the governor’s proposed possum feast, leading Scott to grant the possum clemency. Slow Poke was turned over to the North Carolina Wildlife Commission and later was released at Raven Rock State Park.

Governor Scott, however, was unrepentant. “I shall not be thwarted in my appetite for possum,” he said. The governor was true to his word. A few years later, Scott served possum at a black tie affair at the Executive Mansion.

See more images of Slow Poke on the State Archives Flickr site.

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.

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