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Home for Durham Bulls Dedicated, 1926

El Toro Park in the 1930s. Image from the Duke Rare Book
and Manuscript Collection
.

On July 26, 1926, the Durham Bulls’ El Toro Park was dedicated. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first Commissioner of Baseball, stole the show that day by riding onto the field on the team mascot, a real bull.  Governor Angus McLean was also on hand for the festivities. The park was the home field for the Bulls, a local class-D farm team for the Cincinnati Reds.

In 1933, the City of Durham purchased the park with the help of a donation from local banker and attorney John Sprunt Hill and renamed the facility Durham Athletic Park. The stadium burned in June 1939, but a new concrete and steel grandstand that seated 1,000 spectators was constructed within weeks.

During the off season, the rest of the stadium was rebuilt, again funded by Hill. The reconstructed Durham Athletic Park opened in April 1940. It was that stadium that was featured in the 1988 blockbuster film, Bull Durham.

In 1995, the baseball team moved down the road to Durham Bulls Athletic Park, leaving their old stadium for municipal uses such as festivals and other sporting events.

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Cherokee Wrestler and Chief

An image of Saunooke from UNC Libraries

On July 19, 1906, Osley Bird Saunooke, super heavyweight wrestler and Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI), was born in Cherokee.

Professional wrestling was a natural fit for Saunooke, who served in the Marine Corps, stood 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed more than 350 pounds. During the Depression, he began wrestling and his rise in the sport was quick. In 1937, he became the Super Heavyweight Champion of the World, and he went on to hold that title for 14 years. When he retired from the wrestling in 1951, Saunooke had fought 5,217 matches all over the country.

After retiring from the ring Saunooke changed gears quickly. He was elected Principal Chief of the ECBI almost immediately, serving in that capacity from 1951 to 1955 and again from 1959 to 1963. Saunooke is widely credited with turning the Cherokee’s home in western North Carolina into a model reservation. He is also often praised for working closely with the federal and state governments to ensure greater autonomy for the Cherokee.

Respected for his leadership abilities, Saunooke was the first Indian east of the Mississippi River elected to an office in the National Congress of American Indians. He died in 1965.

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.

Gaston Means, Con Man, Swindler and Hoax Artist

Gaston Means in court. Means is in the center of the photograph with his head tilted toward the camera. Image from the Library of Congress.

On July 11, 1879, private detective, bootlegger and all-around con man Gaston Means was born in Concord.

The son a prominent lawyer, Means attended UNC and worked as a schoolteacher and traveling salesman before moving to New York to work as a private detective in 1911. For the next 20 years, Means was involved in a variety of dubious activities from stealing money from a widow to advancing the German government’s interests in the U.S. while the country was still neutral during World War I.

Among his most famous hoaxes was his publication of the book The Death of President Harding, which falsely asserted that Harding had a been a central player in all the scandals of his administration and accused First Lady Florence Harding of murdering the president. Another was his involvement in the Lindbergh baby case, where he swindled a wealthy heiress out of thousands of dollars by insisting he could recover the child.

It was the Lindbergh case which ultimately brought him down. Following it, Means was captured, convicted of grand larceny and sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to serve a 15-years sentence. He died there in 1938.

Means’ gained national infamy after FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote an article about him for The American Magazine. Hoover called Means “the most amazing figure in contemporary criminal history.”

The cast of the HBO series Boardwalk Empire includes a character based on Means’ life.

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.

Flightless Birds Race in Brevard, 1935

On July 6, 1935, an ostrich race was held on Main Street in downtown Brevard.

The race pitted two ostriches against each other. Each bird was ridden by a young woman. According to the Transylvania Times, a local newspaper, the two jockeys, Billie Dean and Amie Register, rode without a bridle, saddle or any other sort of equipment.

An ad for the 1935 ostrich race in Brevard. Image from the Transylvania County Public Library.

An ad for the 1935 ostrich race in Brevard. Image from the Transylvania County Public Library.

Accounts of the race vary, but an article in the Times before the race said that each 350-pound bird would be blindfolded while the jockey mounted it and that, after the blindfolds were removed, folks weren’t exactly sure what would happen, though the hope was that the birds would race down Main Street toward a railroad bridge and hopefully reach 35 miles per hour.

The race’s victor has been lost to history, but one account mentions that one of the ostriches got off track and ran into a Ford Model T, knocking the rider unconscious, though she soon recovered.

The entire event was a traveling show that had originated in Florida where, again according to the Times, 14,000 people had turned out a racetrack in Miami to watch the race. The paper mentions that Brevard was the 11th town outside of Florida where the race had been held.

A special thanks to the Transylvania County Public Library and Local History Librarian Marcy Thompson for helping us find primary sources for this story. 

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.

The Dogwood, the Cardinal, the Plott Hound, the Emerald

A nearly 700-carat emerald that was found
in March 2011 in Alexander County and is
now in the collection of the N.C. Museum
of Natural Sciences

On June 28, 1973, the General Assembly designated the emerald as the state’s official precious stone.

Emeralds are a variety of the mineral beryl. Beryl is colorless in its pure state, but chromium turns beryl green. The aquamarine is blue beryl, and there are also yellow, light green, red and pink varieties. Beryl, in all its variety of colors, is found among mica, quartz and feldspar, all of which are abundant in the North Carolina mountains.

North Carolina is very rich in minerals. More than 300 varieties have been found—more than in any other state. North Carolina also has the largest emerald deposits found in the United States. Most of the mining operations for the gem are in Alexander and Mitchell Counties.

In 2012, the Nature Research Center at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences acquired four of the largest emeralds ever found in North America. Surprisingly, all four of the gems were found on the same property and three were found on the same day. One of the stones, known as the Carolina Emperor, is a whopping 64 carats.

Check out NCpedia for more on the emerald and other state symbols.

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.

Celtic Sam Jones of Wilmington and the NBA

Image from Getty Images / the NBA

On June 24, 1933, legendary Boston Celtics player Sam Jones was born in Wilmington. During his 12 seasons with the Celtics, Jones and his team won 10 championships.

Basketball was always a part of Jones’s life. He played the game in high school, and at North Carolina Central University. During his college career, he caught the eye of Red Auerbach, the coach of the Boston Celtics. At N.C. Central, Jones studied and prepared to teach high school, and by the time he graduated, he had a job offer. But teaching was not Jones’s destiny. He was the first draft pick for the Celtics, and was the eighth overall pick in the 1957 NBA draft.

Jones began to gain national recognition during the 1961-1962 season, earning the nickname “Mr. Clutch.” As a guard for the Celtics, he was known for his great dedication, amazing accuracy in shooting and speed and agility on the court.

Jones retired in 1969, and shortly thereafter the Celtics officially retired his jersey number, 24. He went on to coach at Federal City College and N.C. Central and worked as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Jazz.

He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1983 and now lives in Florida.

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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.

Revelry Ensues After Stanley Cup Victory, 2006

On June 19, 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes won their first ever National Hockey League championship. The Stanley Cup win came after the Canes defeated the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 in front of a sold out crowd in the last game of a seven-game series.

In addition to the team win, 22-year-old rookie goaltender Cam Ward was recognized with the Conn Smythe Award, given to the most valuable player in the playoffs, for his stellar performance in relief of veteran netminder Martin Gerber.

The win kicked off two days of celebration in Raleigh with Gov. Mike Easley declaring June 20 “Carolina Hurricanes Day” and urging North Carolinians to wear the Hurricanes colors of red and black in support of the team. A victory parade held at the RBC Center, now the PNC Arena, drew 30,000 fans and was covered live by WRAL for viewers at home.

A second parade was held in downtown Raleigh the next day, ending with a celebration at the State Capitol. Even the General Assembly paid homage to the victors, holding a special joint session where legislators greeted head coach Peter Laviolette, Hurricanes players and the Stanley Cup with enthusiastic applause.

The Hurricanes’ 2006 Stanley Cup win was North Carolina’s first professional men’s sports championship.

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.

The Mixed Fortunes of the Land of Oz

Shots from around the Land of Oz theme park

On June 15, 1970, the Land of Oz theme park opened on Beech Mountain in Avery County.

The theme park, based on the book and movie The Wizard of Oz, was the brainchild of entrepreneur Grover Robbins, the same man who opened Tweetsie Railroad. The park featured costumed characters reminiscent of the movie with a recreation of the city of Oz, complete with a yellow brick road. In its early years the theme park attracted many visitors and experienced much success.

That began to change in December 1975, when a fire caused major damage to many of the park’s structures. The park began to experience financial troubles and attendance declined.  It closed in 1980.

The property was abandoned for several years until the landowner restored the park in the late 1990s. A few former employees decided to hold an “Autumn of Oz” festival to commemorate their days of working at the park. The festival became an annual event.

Today the “Land of Oz” is used primarily as a venue for special events and private parties. Individuals can also rent the facility and spend the night in Dorothy’s house.

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.

Lumina, Storied Beacon at Wrightsville Beach

Tourists gather at Lumina Pavilion, circa 1918. Image from the State Archives

Tourists gather at Lumina Pavilion, circa 1918. Image from the State Archives

On June 3, 1905, Lumina, a pavilion on Wrightsville Beach known as the “Fun Spot of the South” opened for the first time.

Lumina had its roots in February 1905 when the Consolidated Railways Light & Power Company purchased a train track along the waterfront. On the land it purchased, the company constructed the pavilion to promote beach tourism and better accommodate the patrons of its trolley line.

The ground floor featured dressing rooms, refreshment stands and other amusements. The second level was primarily a dance floor with a balcony and band shell for the orchestra and a restaurant. The third floor housed a 15-foot wide promenade overlooking the dance floor.

Lumina quickly became a mecca for excursions from all across North Carolina and beyond. Incandescent lights inside and out made the pavilion a beacon. In the era of silent films a screen was erected on tall pilings on the beach alongside the pavilion, and though the style of music changed over the years, music always dominated the scene. Writer Lewis Philip Hall even claims that it was at Lumina that the shag was invented in 1928.

The pavilion was condemned in 1972 and demolished a little over a year later.

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Belk’s Rooted in Monroe

Cars in front a Belk store in the 1930s in Brevard. Image from the Transylvania County Public Library.

Cars in front a Belk store in the 1930s in Brevard. Image from
the Transylvania County Public Library

On May 29, 1888, the first Belk department store opened under the name the “New York Racket” in Monroe. The store was founded by William Henry Belk, only 25 at the time. Belk used all $750 of his personal life savings, a $500 loan and $3,000 in consigned merchandise to launch the operation.

The store stayed in business largely because of Belk’s innovative sales techniques. He insisted that prices be clearly labeled and that no haggling or credit be allowed. The store opened early and closed late to accommodate working-class customers and consistently relied on slim margins with a high sales volume.

After a few years of success, Belk convinced his brother John to join the business as a partner. When he came onboard, they renamed the store Belk Brothers. As the success of the business grew, so did its footprint. New locations opened across the Charlotte region in the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of which were partnerships between the Belk brothers and trusted former employees.

Still operated by the Belk family today, the company employs nearly 23,000 people at 301 locations across the South. It had nearly $4 billion in sales last year.

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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