Do you know that the creators of Stranger Things are from Durham, North Carolina?
The supernatural series may be set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, but creators Matt and Ross Duffer grew up in Durham. Although the identical twins grew up in the 90s, the series is awash with popular culture references from the 1980s. They lived in Durham County and attended the Duke School for elementary and middle school, graduating from Jordan High School. The Duffer brothers later attended Chapman University in California where they studied film and media arts.
Enjoy the ambience of Hawkins – we mean Durham – and immerse yourself in the 1980s. Discover movies, books, comics, and music of the era in our Duke Libraries’ collections.
Films of the 1980s
To give a sense of the world beyond Hawkins/Durham, we’ve highlighted international films from the same period including Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Spain), Police Story (Hong Kong), Cinema Paradiso (Italy), and My Neighbor Totoro (Japan).
Films that the Hellfire gang watched include popular titles like Ghostbustersand E.T. – and, yes, those are in our film collection.
Visit the Library Things Collection Spotlight in our lobby to browse these films* – and more (the full list is here) – that we’ve selected from our film collection.
Note: The list incudes some titles which you can stream via your Duke NetID.
Music of the 1980s
Heavy Metal, Punk, Rock, Electronic, Pop, Rap – the 1980s are calling! Songs and artists featured in the show are seeing a resurgence of interest and gaining new audiences. If you wonder why “old” music such as Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill (1985), Metallica’s Master of Puppets (1986), and the Clash have been at the top of playlists, you can thank Stranger Things. The 1980s also saw the rise of Rap as a musical force with the emergence of iconic performers such as LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash, and Run D.M.C.
The Duke Music Library has a collection of CDs embracing all musical genres including rock, folk and rap. Don’t want to immerse yourself in the 1980s with a boombox or other older formats? Your Duke NetID provides access to streaming music platforms. Interested in the same sort of 1980s (and more recent) music of Stranger Things? Alexander Street Music database can lead you directly to genres of popular music.
Books of the 1980s
While film, music, and the rise of gaming of the 1980s populate the atmosphere of Stranger Things, books about – and of – the period illuminate popular culture. A selection of suspense and fantasy novels by writers such as Stephen King, graphic novels (which evolved from comic books), and books examining contemporary culture are available in the Lilly Library lobby. Peruse these highlighted titles, plus a few eBooks in our Lilly Collection Spotlight Reading List.
To quote Stranger Things‘ character Dustin:
… I am on a curiosity voyage, and I need my paddles to travel. These books… these books are my paddles…
Our Duke Libraries and your Duke NetID provide “paddles” that encompass books, film, music, and a breadth of online resources. Explore Duke Libraries’ “library things” and embark on your own curiosity voyage!
In 1949, after living and working in the US for 30 years and making his home in Durham for over 10 years, Der Wo, the owner and operator of Durham’s first, very popular, Chinese restaurant was joyfully reunited with his family for the first time in 18 years.
Der Wo was originally from the Chinese province of Guangdong (called Canton by Westerners of the time) near Hong Kong. He immigrated to the US to work in Chinese restaurants in Washington DC. Before he came to Durham, he had 16 years of experience in the Chinese/American restaurant business. Der Wo brought his skills and joined a venture in Durham backed by the very successful sister restaurant, also the Oriental, based in Charlotte NC. Although the term “Oriental” is no longer used to identify people of Asian ancestry, in the period of the founding of this cafe, the term was widely used. The term “Chinese /American” more accurately reflects the people born in China who lived and worked in the United States.
Chinese /American cuisine had been a national fad in urban areas across the United States since the early 1900s. By the mid-1930s, Chop Suey, the common name for a Chinese/American adaptation of stir fry, was only available in Durham as a canned good from La Choy, founded in the US midwest in 1922, or from the Pines Tea Room near Chapel Hill, run by a Mrs. Vickers.
The Immigration Act of 1790 and the Chinese Exclusion Acts, in force from the 1880s until 1942, meant that Der Wo could not become a US citizen. In 1915 a court action opened the door for more Chinese restaurant workers to enter the US, but this immigration was tightly controlled. In the 1930 US Census, Durham had only 3 people identified as Chinese-born.
Nonetheless, by 1938 downtown Durham had the Oriental Restaurant, a thriving Chinese/American eatery. The Oriental, like other Chinese-owned businesses, followed Exclusion era practices by employing Chinese “bachelor” cooks and staff, several of whom lived on the premises. In the 1940 Census, Der Wo and five of his employees were listed as living above the restaurant on Parrish St.
A system of mutual support developed among Chinese/Americans and among business owners and restauranteurs called Huiguan. This relatively informal association system was similar to clans or a guild system for the management of both the supply of Chinese food and specialty products, and the flow of restaurant workers into the United States. The small staff of Chinese men gathered in Durham in the mid-1930s to open the new Chinese restaurant.
The Oriental was essentially a 90-seat `white tablecloth restaurant well-sited in downtown Durham about equidistant from the two largest hotels in the downtown area and two blocks from the busy passenger train station. The Oriental was whites only. The operators chose Parrish St, also known as the “Black Wall Street,” because of proximity to patrons via the railroad and hotels, but the business did not make any accommodation for black patrons. The presence of Black Wall Street in a white downtown was an anomaly as was a segregated Chinese Restaurant just steps from the two largest black-owned enterprises in the city.
By the early 1940s, a Chinese restaurant for black patrons, the Asia Cafe, was established about a mile from the Oriental. Located in Hayti, Durham’s black business district, the restaurant was near the important intersection of Fayetteville St and Pettigrew St. The Asia Cafe was operated by Hugh Wong. The site was taken under urban renewal as part of Durham Freeway.
The Oriental used many of the marketing tools available in the 1930s. Der Wo advertised his restaurant in the Duke Chronicle, UNC’s Daily Tar Heel, and the Durham newspapers as well as the City Directories and the telephone books. Der Wo arranged for civic groups to hold meetings and banquets in his facility. In addition to supporting the American war effort during World War Two via war bond drives and other donations, Der Wo’s earlier activism included support for the nationalist Chinese cause including holding a banquet at the Oriental in honor of a barnstorming Chinese aviatrix raising funds for the support of the nationalists against the Japanese.
A grand opening for the Oriental was held on Saturday June18th 1938 and the restaurant was a hit from the start. Der Wo with the backing of the owner of the Oriental in Charlotte had rented a white brick two-story restaurant building with granite details likely built in the late teens or early twenties. Since he came from restaurants in more architecturally sophisticated urban Washington DC, the Oriental exterior was modernized in the Moderne style with full plate glass doors and windows surrounded by opaque panels of pigmented structural glass, probably Vitrolite, in ivory and black . The name “The Oriental Restaurant” was in a green bamboo style script in the glass panel above the front facade and there was a neon sign. The colors of the renovated interior were cream and brown and the main dining room seated 60 and included both high booths and tables. There was an adjoining dining room seating 30 for meetings. The restaurant was fully air-conditioned at a time that many offices and hotel rooms were not.
The preferred Chinese/ American dish in the 1930s remained Chop Suey, but in a recent survey on social media of long-term Durham residents now in their 60’s and older, the Oriental’s Chicken Chow Mein is the most frequently remembered dish. The owner of a local plumbing company was so fond of the Oriental that his family ate there once a week throughout the 1950s and 1960s and many survey respondents remembered special Sunday lunches at the Oriental. The judgment concerning the popularity of the Oriental’s Chow Mein is verified in a 1950s newspaper article about the long-time cook at the Oriental, Frank Dea Toy.
George Lougee, a local newspaper reporter for the Durham Herald Sun, wrote affectionately not only about Der Wo, but also about the kitchen workers like Frank Dea Toy over several decades. Lougee’s primary beat was the Courts, and the Oriental was just around the corner from the Courthouse and jail.
Among the most interesting aspects of the Oriental story is Der Wo and his family’s path from China to Durham which was detailed in Lougee’s 1949 feature newspaper story about the reunion of Der Wo and his family after the long separation because of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the disruption of World War II.
In 1919, Der Wo immigrated from China via San Francisco to Washington DC to make his way in the restaurant business. No doubt he improved his English and he learned about the operations of restaurants.
In 1931 Der Wo was successful enough to make the two-month journey to return to China to marry. Der Wo’s parents had arranged his marriage to Wu Mei On, an eligible young woman. Before Der Wo returned to the US about a year later, Wu Mei On had had a daughter and was pregnant. Wu Mei On and her children lived with Der Wo’s parents. Der Wo returned to the restaurant business in Washington DC in 1932 before coming to Durham in late 1937.
In 1941, the Japanese bombed and invaded the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The danger and brutality of the attack prompted the extended Der Wo family to flee into the interior of China. After a few months, they returned to Hong Kong to find their home intact and they resumed their lives there.
In some of the records of the census and other Federal agencies from the 1930s and 1940s, Der Wo is listed as white. In 1949 Der Wo began Naturalization proceedings and was finally reunited with his wife and met, for the first time, his 18-year old son. Part of the delay in the reunion was because of immigration restrictions. Both his wife and son had to come to the United States on temporary visas. The family lived together for a number of years and two other sons were born.
In 1953 Der Wo, suffering from heart disease, died of a sudden heart attack, and his wife and older son were forced to take over the operation of the restaurant.
In 1954 Federal Immigration and Naturalization authorities contacted the family about possible deportation because of the lapsed visa status of both Der Wo’s wife and older son. Lougee wrote about the family’s immigration situation and gathered local support. With the assistance of Congressman Carl Durham, a private bill was introduced and approved by Congress and signed by President Eisenhower to allow the family to stay together in Durham.
With the help of her son and the restaurant staff, Mrs Der Wo operated the restaurant successfully throughout the 1950s despite her limited English language skills.
In a mid-1950s feature story, Frank Dea Toy, cook at the Oriental, was featured. Dea Toy claimed, to newspaperman Lougee’s astonishment, that after living in Durham for over twenty years he had never been to any sort of ball game nor had he attend more than one movie a year. Radio and television were, he said, too “noisy.” The isolation of the Chinese workers was further illustrated by Lougee’s reporting on a 1944 fatal hit and run accident that killed an Oriental employee who was walking in Durham with two Chinese colleagues. The death was never solved.
By the early1960’s a shift in the primary shopping areas from downtown Durham to the suburbs north and south of Durham’s city center was well underway and the lunch and dinner trade at the Oriental were likely a fraction of what they had been. Urban renewal was in the planning stages and the face of Durham was changing.
Civil rights protest was also rising, and in May 1963 the Oriental was a site at which Black students, primarily from North Carolina Central University (then College), staged a late afternoon peaceful sit-in. Sit-in leaders asked to be served on behalf of their 60 followers and were refused by management. Some students left, but 48 waited for the police to charge them with unlawful trespass. All were charged and released without bond.
By 1964 the formal process of downtown Durham redevelopment using Federal funds was underway. The passenger train station in downtown Durham was closed and one of the two major downtown hotels closed as well. No doubt redevelopment was a part of the decline of the Oriental. Mrs. Der closed the Oriental in 1966. The building itself was not demolished until the early 1970s. The ultimate causes of the closure of the restaurant may have been the aging of the staff and owner, but other factors may have included the aging infrastructure and the changes in the surrounding business climate. In the face of public accommodation laws, urban renewal programs, the Durham Freeway, and the end of official segregation, the Oriental did not survive.
Many thanks to my colleagues, Yunyi Wang and Luo Zhou, and to Prof. Calvin Cheung-Miaw for their editorial assistance.
This post is part of a series intended to introduce first-year students to the diverse history of Duke and Durham. These posts are brief introductions, but include more detailed resources for further reading and exploration.
Many formal gatherings in the Americas begin with acknowledgement and prayer for the indigenous people of the past, and to honor those among us now. Other examples of respect are the Duke Forest Land Acknowledgement Statement and the Eno River Association’s Land Acknowledgement which bow to the Yésah, “the people”, the collection of tribes who have lived on the North Carolina and Virginia Piedmonts. As you find your way to class, you may wonder who was walking over Duke’s campus 1200 years ago. Where are their descendants?
North Carolina has the highest number of Native Americans east of the Mississippi. A map reconstructing ancient languages of the Southeast identifies three clusters: Iroquois, Siouan, and Muskhogean. Two range across the state. To the west are the Iroquois linguistic family, the present-day Eastern Band of Cherokee. In the Piedmont, southern, and the eastern parts of the State are the remaining tribes of the Siouan (Tutelo) linguistic family: Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, Sappony, Waccamaw, Meherrin, Lumbee, and Occaneechi.
More recent accounts, summarized in NCPedia, describe the Occaneechi and Sappony nations as documented by Europeans starting in the 17th century. There are also accounts of the more ancient Shakori and Eno tribes of the Piedmont, and the Tuscarora towards the east. Two centuries later, Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 began the forced removal of the Cherokee from Georgia in the Trail of Tears. A band of 300-400 escaped to the mountains in western North Carolina, and eventually bought what is now the Qualla reservation. It is from there that Duke’s first Native American students arrived in 1881 to attend Trinity College and the Cherokee Industrial School.
This isn’t enough to understand what’s beneath your feet, or to recognize who might be walking beside you. In the mixture of oral traditions, documentation, and historical interpretations, what are the real stories? You can visit the excavations closest to Duke in Hillsborough, with evidence from the late Woodland Period from 1000 to 1600 AD. They include a reconstruction of an Occaneechi Village from 300 years ago. Watch the calendar for Pow Wows in North Carolina, find out what to expect and become familiar with the appropriate etiquette if it’s your first one. There are many ways to honor and celebrate Native Americans at Duke.