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Allegheny, Ashe, Avery: Top Christmas Tree Producers

A Fraser fir farm in Watauga County. Image from the Watauga County Christmas Tree Association.

A Fraser fir farm in Watauga County. Image from the Watauga County Christmas Tree Association.

On August 23, 2005, the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) was adopted as the official state Christmas tree of North Carolina.

The idea came from eighth graders at Spruce Pine’s Harris Middle School who petitioned legislators to bestow the special recognition upon the popular conifer after learning of the economic impact the tree had in the state. The bill was introduced by state Representative Philip D. Frye, also of Spruce Pine.

A diagram of a Christmas tree from a 1979 state guide to growing the crop. Image from the State Library.

A diagram of a Christmas tree from a 1979 state guide to growing the crop. Image from the State Library.

Known as the Cadillac of Christmas trees, 50 million Fraser firs are grown in North Carolina. The tree was named for Scottish botanist John Fraser who explored the Southern Appalachian mountain region during late 1700s. The evergreen grows in a cone shape and can reach 80 feet.

Fraser firs represent more than 90 percent of Christmas trees grown in North Carolina. The Tar Heel State’s Christmas tree industry is the second largest in the United States, behind Oregon’s, and produces 20 percent of all Christmas trees sold in the nation.

Trees are raised in more than a dozen western counties, with Alleghany, Ashe and Avery being the top producers.

North Carolina Fraser firs are known throughout the country and North America. They have been displayed in the White House on 12 occasions, more than any other species of tree.

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No Quickie Divorce in 1940s

Divorce difficulty in mid-20th century North Carolina

Divorce law’s complexity gained notoriety in 1940s North Carolina.

On August 18, 1945, Caldwell County residents Otis Williams and Lillie Hendrix legally married in the state of North Carolina, ending a five-year battle against bigamy charges.

The saga began in 1940, when Otis, a married storekeeper, and his handyman’s wife, Lillie, traveled to Nevada to secure divorces from their respective spouses. After spending the legally required time as “residents” of the state, divorces were granted, and Williams and Hendrix married before returning to North Carolina.

The action infuriated the first Mrs. Williams, who in retaliation brought charges of bigamy against the newlyweds. A Caldwell County court convicted the pair and delivered multiyear prison sentences for each. Subsequent appeals to the Supreme Court resulted in the overturning of that conviction, but a dogged state prosecutor continued the crusade.

By this time, the spurned Mrs. Williams had died, but her desire to see the couple jailed lived on as county courts upheld the convictions. State courts, however, ultimately decided to take pity on the pair, offering them a reprieve so long as they legally wed in state.

The case made national news, throwing a spotlight on the labyrinth-like nature of divorce law at that time.

Read more about divorce law in North Carolina on NCpedia.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Kannapolis Man Laid Claim to Photographic Immortality

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 great 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.

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.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Plott Hound Native to Haywood County

A man and Plott hound on a bear hunt in western North Carolina. Image from the State Archives.

A man and Plott hound on a bear hunt in western North Carolina. Image from the State Archives.

On August 12, 1989, the Plott Hound was officially designated as the State Dog.

One of only four dog breeds native to the United States, the breed was developed in Haywood County by the Plott family. The foundation stock for the dogs that became Plott Hounds came to America with Johannes George Plott in 1750.

The Plotts bred hard-working, tenacious and loyal dogs that would hunt bears and wild boars with boundless courage. Plott enthusiasts describe the breed as bold and energetic hunting dogs, gentle with people and loyal to their owners. The breed was popular across the region as early as the mid 1800s; people from near and far would travel to Haywood County to get puppies from the Plott family.

Plott hounds on the Plott family farm in Haywood County. Image the State Archives.

Plott hounds on the Plott family farm in Haywood County. Image the State Archives.

The dogs, once black, brown or brindle, are now usually brindle—meaning stripes of varying color. They stand 20 to 25 inches at the shoulder, weigh about 45 to 55 pounds and are strong and fast. The Plott Hound has a distinctive high-pitched bark that is effective in alerting hunters to treed prey.

The American Kennel Club recognized the Plott hound as a distinctive breed in 1998.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Archdale Home to Rodeo Champion

Davis with fellow bull rider J.W. Hart. Image from Professional Bull Rider.

Davis (left) with fellow bull rider J.W. Hart. Image from Professional Bull Rider.

On August 10, 1972, Jerome Davis, who would ultimately put North Carolina on the bull riding and rodeo map, was born in Colorado Springs, Colo. His father, stationed in Colorado while in the military, brought his family home to their ranch in Archdale, in Guilford County, just six months later.

Davis rode his first bull at age 11. On his fourth ride, he lasted the required eight seconds and committed himself to becoming a competitive bull rider. Davis won his first event as a freshman in high school. He was the North Carolina State High School Bull Riding Champion in 1990 and won the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association’s Bull Riding Championship two years later.

In 1992, he joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), a dream only a few cowboys experience.

Davis had a stellar career on the bull riding circuit. He earned a World Championship in 1995 and was elected to the Professional Bull Riders Ring of Honor in 1998. His career ended in March 1998, in Fort Worth, Texas, when he was paralyzed from the chest down after being thrown from a bull.

Davis returned home to Archdale and continues to run the Davis Ranch and his bucking bull and rodeo business.

Read more about sport in North Carolina on NCpedia

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

Bearded Lady, Featured in Freaks, at Circuses

Barnwell in the 1932 film Freaks.

Barnell in the 1932 film Freaks.

On August 3, 1940, an article about Wilmington native Lady Olga, considered by many to be the world’s greatest bearded lady, was published in The New Yorker.

The profile, written by literary journalist Joseph Mitchell, himself a native North Carolinian, recounted with a sweet solemnity Lady Olga’s life from her birth as Jane Barnell in 1871 in the Port City. Barnell had a tragic childhood. She was sold by her mother to a passing circus at a young age before ending up in an orphanage.

Retrieved by her father and sent to live with her grandmother in Mecklenburg County, she met a man there who convinced her to grow her beard once again and join the circus. So, at age 21, she became Lady Olga. Though she was popular in the circus, it wasn’t until she played a bearded lady in Tod Browning’s infamous film Freaks in 1932 that she gained wider recognition.

The article on Barnwell in The New Yorker.

The article on Barnell in The New Yorker.

The New Yorker article articulated the often conflicting feelings that Barnell had about her long career in circuses, carnivals and fairs, and detailed Barnell’s opinion of sideshows.

Mitchell recounted the story of Barnell’s life simply, and his powerful prose leads the reader to know, as Lady Olga knows, that the real freaks are not those standing behind the curtain, but those watching from in front of the curtain.

Lady Olga’s last circus performance was with the Ringling Brothers in New York City in 1938, though she continued making public appearances until her death in 1951.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

School of the Arts Screenwriter’s Tapes Sought by Simpson Attorneys

Laura Hart McKinny and Mark Fuhrman. Image from Getty Images.

Laura Hart McKinny and Mark Fuhrman. Image from Getty Images.

On July 28, 1995, Forsyth County Superior Court Judge William Z. Wood, Jr., ruled against O. J. Simpson’s attorneys, holding that aspiring screenwriter Laura Hart McKinney did not have to turn over her taped interviews with Los Angeles police officer Mark Fuhrman and others.

Professor McKinney of the North Carolina School of the Arts, who was working on a screenplay and novel about women police officers, conducted the interviews about the work of LAPD officers between 1985 and 1994. She had amassed about 13 hours of tapes in which Fuhrman repeatedly used racial slurs and made remarks about police brutality, planting of evidence and harassment of female officers. 

Fuhrman later became a central figure in the O. J. Simpson trial after he found a bloody glove at the murder site on Simpson’s estate. Simpson’s defense team argued that the glove was planted and sought to use the tapes to bolster their argument as well as to prove that Furman perjured himself by denying his use of racial slurs. 

The following month, Simpson’s North Carolina lawyers, Kenneth B. Spaulding and Joseph B. Cheshire V, successfully appealed the decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals on the grounds that it interfered with the defendant’s right to a fair trial. 

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR 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.

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