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The Power of Flour, Graham’s Biscuitville

On February 7, 1978, the Graham-based fast food chain Biscuitville filed to register a trademark for the first time.

Now based in Greensboro, the chain got its start as Pizzaville in 1966 when former flour salesman Maurice Jennings began selling take-out pizzas from two bread and milk stores that he owned in Burlington. The chain expanded to six stores across the Triad region and southern Virginia.

The chain first started selling biscuits to supplement its income and drive more traffic in the morning, and the first biscuit-only store opened in Danville, Virginia, in 1975. Eventually all the chain’s Pizzaville locations were converted to Biscuitville stores.

Biscuitville moved its headquarters from Graham to Greensboro in 2007, and today operates more than 50 stores in North Carolina and Virginia. It is still owned by the Jennings family. Maurice Jennings’ son Burney has been the company’s CEO since 1996.

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Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott?

Scott with Evenlyn Brent in  a promotional card for the 1935 film Home on the Range

Scott with Evenlyn Brent in a promotional card for the 1935 film Home on the Range. Image from the New York Public Library.

On January 23, 1898, Hollywood icon Randolph Scott was born.

Raised in Charlotte, Scott excelled in sports, especially baseball, football and swimming.  After serving in World War I as an artillery observer with the Army, he enrolled at the Georgia Institute of Technology where played football until an injury caused him to withdraw. He returned to his home state to attend UNC but did not graduate.

Scott worked briefly in the textile firm where his father was employed but by 1927 had become interested in acting and moved to Los Angeles. Tall, lanky and handsome, he worked steadily, primarily, but not entirely, in westerns.

Though it took him nearly 10 years to work his way into A-level movies, he remained a popular star until he retired in 1962. His very name evokes the western film genre.

Scott married twice, briefly to heiress Marion du Pont, and then to Patricia Stillman, with whom he adopted two children. He often returned to North Carolina to visit family and, following his death in 1987, was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte.

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.

U-Boats Off the OBX, 1942

A tanker sinking off the Outer Banks after being hit by a U-boat.
Image from the National Park Service.

On January 19, 1942, a German U-boat, designated U-123, attacked three ships north of Cape Hatteras. The U-boat was part of what was called the “Second Happy Time,” a campaign during which Axis submarines attacked merchant vessels along the Atlantic coast.

In the early morning hours, the American passenger-freighter City of Atlanta was sunk and survivors were left floating in the icy water; only three crewmen lived. Just before dawn, the U-123 slipped into a group of Allied ships and attacked.

The American tanker Malay was damaged and disabled by gunfire from the U-123’s deck guns. The U-boat then torpedoed a nearby Latvian freighter, killing two of her 32 crewmen and leaving her in to sink.

The U-123 returned to finish off the wounded Malay, hitting her with its last torpedo before it headed east for home. The Norwegian tanker Kosmos II tried unsuccessfully to ram the fleeing U-boat as it escaped.

The tanker Malay, although damaged by cannon fire and a torpedo, survived the attack with the loss of four of her 34 crewmen. The Latvian freighter was abandoned by her crew and floated northward for several days before finally sinking somewhere off Oregon Inlet.

Visit: The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras tells the story of “Torpedo Junction.”

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.

Slapstick Comic, TV Pioneer Soupy Sales

Sales on his show in 1962. Image from the Los Angeles Public Library.

Sales on his show in 1962. Image from the Los Angeles Public Library.

On January 8, 1926, children’s show television host Soupy Sales, noted for taking pies in the face, was born Milton Supman in Franklinton.

Sales’ father, Irving, immigrated to America from Hungary in 1894. Irving operated a dry goods store, which was then a line of work common to Jews in small-town North Carolina. His son, the funnyman, later quipped that his father supplied all the sheets needs of the local Ku Klux Klan.

The Supman family eventually relocated to West Virginia, where Milton graduated from Marshall University. After a stint in the South Pacific during World War II, Supman took a new name and entered show business. Soupy came from a family nickname, Soup Man, and Sales from a famous vaudeville performer.

Sales first became successful on local shows in Detroit and Los Angeles. In 1964, his show moved to New York and was picked up by ABC. His broad slapstick humor involved live performers and puppets, notably White Fang and Black Tooth. Though targeted mostly at kids, the show appealed to adults as well and featured the stars of the day like Frank Sinatra, who asked to be plastered with a cream pie.

Later in life Sales was a regular on game shows such as Hollywood Squares and Match Game. He died in 2009.

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.

No Easy Life for Charlotte’s Hilton Sisters

Daisy and Violet Hilton being wooed by two young men, circa 1927. Image from Wellcome Images.

On January 4, 1969, conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton were found dead in their home in Charlotte. The 60-year old women most likely died of complications of the Hong Kong flu.

Born in Brighton, England, in 1908, the twins were unofficially adopted by their biological mother’s midwife, Mary Hilton, when the mother rejected the children. From the time that they were infants, they were exhibited at fairs and circuses by Hilton and her daughter.

Soon Hilton’s son-in-law, Myer Myers, became their agent and exhibited them in the United States. They were kept in isolation when not being shown on midways across the country.

By 1931, the sisters became fed up with they were mistreated and sued for independence and damages. They won a settlement of $100,000, a fraction of what they had earned since their childhood. Even after earning their freedom, they continued to perform in vaudeville productions and, in 1932, they appeared in the film Freaks. They published their autobiography The Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters in 1942.

After World War II, the popularity of sideshows diminished, and they toured drive-in theaters in support of the film Chained for Life in which they acted in 1950. Their manager abandoned them in Charlotte, where they settled and worked as produce clerks in a grocery store until their death.

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.

At the Corner of Cucumber and Vine

On January 2, 1926, the Mt. Olive Pickle Company was formally incorporated by local business people in Wayne County.

The effort to start the company arose within the community, and the original group of 13 local shareholders invested $19,500 to establish a company to pack and sell pickles.

The shareholders purchased an acre of land for $1,000, constructed a 3,600-square-foot building and hired a factory superintendent and a sales representative. The salesman, Shickrey Baddour, a Lebanese immigrant, had conceived of the idea for the factory when he saw cucumbers rotting in area fields. Within just a few weeks, the number of shareholders grew from 13 to 21.

Mt. Olive Pickle Company started an employee profit sharing program in 1943, becoming one of the first companies in the country to do so. In the early days, records indicate that most of the work at the plant was done by hand. Since then, it has grown into an innovative and modern facility distributing the country’s bestselling brand of pickles.

Today, the factory complex still includes that original acre and is located at the corner of Cucumber and Vine Streets in Mt. Olive.

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.

Bewitched in Tennessee

A sketch depicting an attack by the Bell Witch poltergeist. Image from Mental Floss.

On December 20, 1820, Tennessee farmer and Edgecombe County native John Bell died at his home in Robertson County, Tennessee. Decades later, Bell’s demise was attributed to the “Bell Witch,” a poltergeist that allegedly tormented the family between 1817 and 1821.

There are no contemporary sources for the legend. The earliest known mention was published in an 1886 history of Tennessee. The first full treatment was written in 1894 by newspaper publisher Martin Van Buren Ingram, supposedly based on a reminiscence in the diary of an adult son of Bell who was a child at the time of the purported events. The original copy of the diary has never surfaced. All subsequent accounts derive from or elaborate on Ingram’s book.

According to Ingram, an invisible entity with a female persona physically and verbally harassed members of the Bell family, especially John and his daughter Betty. The witch supposedly poisoned Bell with a mysterious potion.

Various theories for the witch’s origin and motives rely on Ingram’s “evidence” and often contradict the historical record.

The Bell Witch story partially inspired the film The Blair Witch Project. A number of recent films and television shows have been made about the Bell Witch legend itself.

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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