Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The sad demise of an historic building.

This is the grand and historic Courthouse in the city of Pittsboro, North Carolina. It had the distinction of being just one of three such buildings in the state that were built in the center of town in the middle of a traffic circle.

The town of Carthage, in the county of Moore (where I live), boasts one also. It was constructed of Indiana Limestone in 1922 and still stands proudly in the center, with traffic flowing around all four sides.

But back to Pittsboro. Just last week a fire erupted in the bell tower of the courthouse and smoke billowed in the air. It was seen for miles and the hope was that it could be contained there.
But, sadly, this was not to be. The fire took hold and the entire building was engulfed in a matter of hours.

You can see in the picture that the courthouse was undergoing some extensive exterior repairs. The cause of the fire is now thought to be from a soldering iron used by a worker. It doesn‘t seem possible that so much damage could be caused by that one item but I guess it did… and another piece of our history has gone down in flames.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

LAWNMOWERS on the race course …

Ellerbe, North Carolina, is not much different from other small, rural communities … unless you factor in the fact that it is fast becoming famous for it’s Lawn Mower Racing.

This whole idea developed when the Ellerbe Lion’s Club was looking for an idea to raise money. They were thinking about go-cart racing (which is a popular sport in this part of the country) and the lawnmower idea evolved.

Donations of money, materials and labor from community members started the project 3 years ago and a clay track was built. It was slow going at first and wrecks were not uncommon. Now it has become a viable sport and is much safer.

My daughter, son-in-law and I took a drive down there this past Saturday and we were amazed at how professional it has become. I’m not a big race fan but the novelty made it fun to watch.

Those lawn mowers can actually run as fast as 60 miles per hour and they sit very close to the ground which I assume helps to avoid flipping on the corners. The drivers compete for cash prizes and they’ve even added a child’s competition that started this year. The crowds number up to 500 per night.

I’ve been told that there is not another track like this that’s been built in the U.S. but I’ll bet there will be many springing up once the word is out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

State of the Art … for it’s time.

Have you ever seen such an elegant “4 seater” ? I ran across this one in Kernersville, North Carolina. It was the outhouse for an elaborate estate known as “Korner’s Folly”.

The estate was built in the late 1880’s by Jule Gilmer Korner who was an artist and interior designer. His creation was so unique that a cousin dubbed it his “folly” and the name caught on. The owner even set the name in tile outside the front door.

The day that I was there we had arrived too late to get in on the tour but we did peek in the windows and walk around the grounds.
That was when I spied the outhouse and one of the staff explained how it was used.

The central area (under the archway) was actually a waiting room where the guests could sit while they waited for a “hole” to become vacated !! It was considered quite a luxury during it’s day but I can’t imagine that it afforded much privacy.

The room to the right of the “waiting room” boasts a child-sized hole and a larger one for the ladies. The room to the left is the men’s area which is worn away now but is said to have housed two large holes. I guess that meant that enterprising gentlemen of that day could continue to carry on their business deals even when they were … dealing with their business !

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A quick and fascinating Read …

I was very surprised to find that so many of my friends had never heard, nor read, about the Collyer brothers, Homer and Langley. They were the infamous pair who lived and died amid tons of debris in their once-elegant Manhattan brownstone in the ‘40‘s.

E. L. Doctorow brings them alive in his latest book which is, admittedly, based loosely on their history. The narrator is the younger brother Homer. He is blind but is acutely aware of his surroundings and of the strange doings of his brother, Langley.

Langley has been gassed in World War I and returns home an embittered man who is gradually losing touch with reality. His passion is for collecting and he does so with a vengeance. The only problem is that he can never throw anything out.

Homer’s narration takes on a protective note as he relates how his brother becomes enamored with “things” and they become part of their lives…including a Model T Ford that they assemble in the dining room. They also become frustrated with the City of New York and, when they refuse to pay for services their heat, water and electricity are turned off.

If you decide to read this book you will read about the ingenious ways that they stayed alive and the fascinating characters that crossed their path and invaded their sanctuary. Gangsters, hippies and musicians are just a few of these.

I hope you will enjoy “Homer and Langley” as much as I did.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The ravages of age …

I painted this picture about 22 years ago. I loved the configuration of the old tobacco barn and I was enamored with the fact that it was constructed with over-sized hand-made bricks. I would love to have seen it being built.

As many of you know I enjoy traveling the back roads in my car and it’s fun to come upon these scenes and try to imagine what life was like back then when this was brand new.

Of course, our country is very young in relation to the rest of the world but we still have our ruins and I was sad to note that this had become one of them. These recent photos say it all …

However, when I think it over, I am surprised to see that the barn is still standing … albeit just barely. Both of the side additions have fallen away and the bricks are crumbling and coming apart at the seams.

I wish I knew if the demise of the building was sheer neglect or if the owner just can’t bear to part with what’s left of that bit of local folk lore. I prefer to think it is the latter.

Friday, March 05, 2010

“High Company” … by Harry Lee

The handsome young man standing in this picture is my grandfather… Harry Lee. He was a medic in WWI and after he came home he wrote a book of poems, entitled “High Company”. The poetry is almost child-like to my ear and I doubt if it would be publishable in today’s market but it was my “Papa’s” sincere tribute to the men of courage that he treated.

He has two other published books …”More Day to Dawn” about the life of Henry Thoreau and “The Little Poor Man” a play honoring St. Francis of Assisi. I had copies of those books but it took a very long internet search to finally find a copy of “High Company”. I was thrilled when I realized that the one I purchased was signed by “Papa”.

When one of my sisters asked me if I could find a copy for her I told her I’d try. I was surprised to get a quick email answer to my book inquiry…and equally surprised when I read the description from Alibris … "BRAND NEW PAPERBACK. This book is printed on demand (allow 1-2 weeks for printing)."

How can this be, I wondered? Surely Papa had a copyright on his material. Then it came to me. His book was published in 1920 and, even with a 75 year copyright it would not be valid now unless it had been updated. Then I read further and all became clear…

"High Company:
By: Lee, Harry
Many of the earliest books, particularly those dating back to the 1900s and before, are now extremely scarce and increasingly expensive. We are republishing these classic works in affordable, high quality, modern editions, using the original text and artwork."

I.e: they are brazenly copying whatever old texts that they can lay their hands on that have outlived their copyrights. A nifty little scheme with no fear of reprisals from the authors.

And there you have it ! My grandfather’s beloved book of poems may now be purchased in paper-back for $35. I don’t know whether to be furious that his work is being infringed upon or to be happy that his poems may see the light of day again.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

1951 … dancing at the TOTEM POLE BALLROOM

My blog vignettes are really an eclectic collection of memories and thoughts that I’ve gathered over the years and have posted since June of ‘06. For the fun of it I checked to see which entry had received the most comments and this one, (from 06/05/07) won hands down ! I repeat it here with apologies to Kenju, Cazzie and KG Mom who already commented back then.

I spent my high-school, and most of my college, years living in Wellesley Hill, Massachusetts. The town of Newton was very nearby and it was home to a wonderful recreation area called Norumbega Park. It featured canoeing, picnicking, an outdoor theater, a penny arcade, a zoo, a colorful carousel and a huge Ferris wheel.

All of these attractions were enticing but the “icing on the cake” was the amazing dancehall called the Totem Pole. Virtually every famous swing band in the country appeared at that venue. These included, among others, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James & the Dorsey Brothers. Music from the ballroom was broadcast nationally over the NBC, ABC & CBS networks.

A night at the Totem Pole was pricey so most of us in the teenage bracket had only dreamed of going. However, shortly after I turned 18, I met a college man (sigh!) who actually had the means to buy tickets and we spent a memorable Saturday night there.

As I recall they didn’t have a name band the night that we were there, but that didn’t dim our enthusiasm. I was mesmerized the minute we walked in. We were on the upper level of a huge hall. A large staircase led down to the main dance floor and couches and small tables were interspersed on the way down.

There were actually three dance floors…the enormous one in front of the live orchestra and two smaller, intimate, ones on either side of the seating arrangements. It was all very posh and incredibly romantic. The lighting was soft and the music was dreamy and just right for slow dancing. I doubt if I was as much enthralled by my date as I was by the idea of it all; but, it was certainly a night to remember.

Of course it all came to an end … not just that night, but the Big Band Era itself...and in 1964 the Totem Pole closed it’s doors for good. Today the area is the site of a large Marriott Hotel.

But the city of Newton has preserved ten acres known as the Norumbega Park Conservation Land. It has access to the Charles river and is a popular jogging and dog-walking site during the day.

During the night? I can’t help but wonder if it is occupied by “Totem Pole ghosts” of the past … romantic couples on an enormous dance floor, swaying to the hypnotic swing tunes that dominated the 50’s and 60’s.