Federal Writers Project Director Edwin Björkman

Untitled3On November 16, 1951, renowned writer, journalist and literary critic Edwin A. Björkman died in Asheville.

Born and raised in Sweden, Björkman worked as a clerk, journalist and actor before coming to the United States in 1891. Upon arrival, he briefly stopped in Chicago and then joined a Scandinavian colony in Minnesota, writing for newspapers to support himself. He later wrote for several papers in New York, served in the short-lived League of Nations’ news bureau and taught Scandinavian drama at Yale before moving to Waynesville in 1925.

In North Carolina, Björkman worked as the literary editor of the Asheville Times, and, during the Depression, directed the North Carolina Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. While working with that project he led the effort that produced North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State.

Throughout his career, Björkman was a prolific writer, producing no less than 10 original novels and translating countless plays and other works into English from European languages. He married four times before dying at age 85, and he is buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.

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Charlotte Heist Foiled, 1933

A man prepares to rob a bank in Massachusetts, circa 1934. Image from the Boston Public Library.

On November 15, 1933, noted criminal Roger “The Terrible” Touhy orchestrated a mail truck robbery in the heart of the Charlotte.

Robert Touhy’s FBI mugshot

At the time of the robbery, Touhy was battling mobster Al Capone for control of illicit alcohol sales in Chicago. While awaiting trial for kidnapping, Touhy sent four men in his gang south to “raise” money for his defense. Although Charlotte had no connection to organized crime at the time, it was a burgeoning hub of the financial industry.

The theft took place in broad daylight. Members of Touhy’s gang ambushed the truck by driving out in front of it from an alleyway as it made its way down Third Street. The gang members got out of their car and moved toward the mail truck. At least one of the group brandished a machine gun as the others disarmed the driver. Two of Touhy’s gang easily clipped the lock on the truck with wire cutters, threw out the mail clerk they found inside and, within two minutes, stole about $100,000 in cash and bank notes.

Charlotte detective Frank Littlejohn conducted an extraordinary investigation and, within two weeks of the heist, three suspects were in jail and the fourth was dead in an apparent mob knockoff.

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Mystery of the Dare Stones

Nov-14-b

Scientists put the Dare Stone under the microscope.
Image courtesy of Brenau University.

On November 14, 1937, a team of Emory University professors revealed the transcription of a message carved on a rock discovered by Louis Hammond in Chowan County earlier that year. The text of their transcription reads:

[Side 1]

Ananias Dare &
Virginia Went Hence
Unto Heaven 1591
Anye Englishman Shew
John White Govr Via
.

[Side 2]

Father Soone After You
Goe for England Wee Cam
Hither / Onlie Misarie & Warre
Tow Yeere / Above Halfe Deade ere Tow
Yeere More From Sickenes Beine Foure & Twentie /
Salvage with Message of Shipp Unto Us / Smal
Space of Time they Affrite of Revenge Rann
Al Awaye / Wee Bleeve it Nott You / Soone After
Ye Salvages Faine Spirits Angrie / Suddaine
Murther Al Save Seaven / Mine Childe /
Ananais to Slaine wth Much Misarie /
Burie Al Neere Foure Myles Easte This River
Uppon Small Hil / Names Writ Al Ther
On Rocke / Putt This Ther Alsoe / Salvage
Shew This Unto You & Hither Wee
Promise You to Give Greate
Plentie Presents
EWD

The message on what came to be known as the “Dare Stone” appeared to be Eleanor White Dare’s recounting of the fate of the Lost Colony from almost 350 years earlier. The Dare Stone’s authenticity is still debated, but the most recent study of the stone done by David LaVere at UNC-Wilmington leaned toward confirming its veracity.

The front of the original Dare Stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University.

The front of the original Dare Stone. Image courtesy of Brenau University.

Not long after Hammond turned the stone over to scholars, he disappeared. Later efforts to find him or information about him proved fruitless. Since a number of events related to the Lost Colony, including the debut of a new outdoor drama by Paul Green, were underway to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the English attempt to establish a permanent colony in the New World at that time, some believed the stone to be a promotional stunt.

Complicating the authenticity questions were a number of other “Dare Stone” discoveries in scattered locations. These came to light after the public offer of a reward for such stones. All but the original are universally deemed to be forgeries.

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Eastern North Carolina Artist Francis Speight

On November 13, 1989, award-winning artist Francis Speight died at age 93 in his Greenville home.

Speight grew up on a Bertie County plantation before enrolling in college at Wake Forest. While there he took art lessons at Meredith College. After briefly serving in the Army during World War I, Speight studied and taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where he would remain for more than 40 years.

Speight focused on painting rural and suburban landscapes and, though some of his work was inspired by his adopted Pennsylvania, he continued to use the landscapes of his native eastern North Carolina as a muse as well.

Belmont Hills by Francis Speight. Image from the Weatherspoon Art Museum.

In 1961, Speight moved back to North Carolina where he taught as an artist-in-residence at East Carolina until his retirement in 1976.

Speight’s work remains on display in public and private art collections across the country. He was the first North Carolina artist to be honored with an exhibition of his works in the newly opened N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh. His many accolades include the North Carolina Award and memberships in the National Academy of Design and the American Institute of Arts and Letters.

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P. T. Barnum Preaches in Rocky Mount, 1836

An 1897 poster for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Image from the Library of Congress.

On November 12, 1836, Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum arrived in Rocky Mount after leaving Aaron Turner’s Traveling Circus, for which he managed the sideshow acts and took tickets.  Barnum convinced some of the Turner acts to join his own traveling circus.

Their first stop was in what is now Rocky Mount. Arriving on a Saturday evening, Barnum spent the night at the Stage Coach Inn. In his autobiography, Barnum wrote that, the next morning, he accompanied the landlord to the Baptist church. Before entering the church, Barnum noticed a grove with a stand and benches. Wishing to speak to the congregation, Barnum was permitted by the preacher to speak for a half an hour after the service.

Approximately 300 people stayed to listen to Barnum preach. It was reported that the crowd was pleased the performance by Barnum, who was not yet known as the Greatest Showman on Earth.

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Jesse Helms and “Viewpoint”

Helms delivering "Viewpoint." Image from WRAL.

Helms delivering “Viewpoint.” Image from WRAL.

On November 11, 1976, WRAL-TV broadcast the last segment of Viewpoint, a nightly series of political editorials, which ran on the station for nearly 16 years.

One of the first televised outlets for punditry in North Carolina, Viewpoint was a springboard for the growing conservative movement. For Jesse Helms, it became a podium to spread his own politically conservative views on topics such as integration and national defense, as the world around him was changing drastically.

The first page of a “Viewpoint” transcript from 1968. Image from the North Carolina Collection
at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Viewpoint’s nearly 3,000 episodes aired on Raleigh’s CBS affiliate every weekday after the evening news broadcast and again the next morning. The program was also syndicated to the Tobacco Network, which then included more than 60 radio stations statewide.

Viewpoint helped usher in political change across the state. In 1970, Helms announced on Viewpoint that he would be changing his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican, boosting the political shift in North Carolina’s electorate.

The final broadcast of Viewpoint aired four years after Helms left television to campaign for a U.S. Senate seat in 1972.

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.

James Murray and the Argyll Colony

These Scottish dancers at Flora McDonald College in Robeson County are
one example of the lasting impact of Argyll Colony on the culture of the
lower Cape Fear region. Image from the State Archives.

On November 10, 1739, Wilmington merchant James Murray wrote his friend Henry McCulloh about the promising prospect for settlement by Scots in the upper Cape Fear region. Murray himself had been in America for only four years and wished to see his fellow Scots populate the backcountry.

James Murray. Image from Archive.org.

James Murray. Image from Archive.org.

The lands that Murray promoted became the Argyll Colony. That name is best known today for a knitted sock pattern but originates from a county in western Scotland. In 1740, five leaders of the colony petitioned the Assembly for an exemption from taxes in order that their numbers might flourish.

The new immigrants became the vanguard for a wave of settlers and, by the 1770s, Highland Scots comprised about a third of the population of the Cape Fear region. The lower Cape Fear area became known as the “Valley of the Scots.”

Murray was an ally of colonial governor Gabriel Johnston, also a Scot. He kept his home at “Point Repose” north of Wilmington and grew rice and indigo on his land. Among North Carolina’s leading Loyalists, Murray went into exile in Nova Scotia after the Revolutionary War and died there in 1781.

Learn more about the impact of Scottish settlers in North Carolina on NCpedia.

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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