Tag Archives: durhamhistory

Opening a Durham Time Capsule: New Exhibit

Postcard of the Washington Duke Hotel.
Postcard of the Washington Duke Hotel.

In the University Archives, we have seen a few time capsules in our day. More often than not, they end up being a bit of a letdown. Newspaper has crumbled, cloth has mildewed, and time has taken its toll on these relics of the past. This year, however, we were fortunate enough to be the recipients of a time capsule that, while modest from the outside, has preserved its remarkable contents in mint condition.

The time capsule was laid in the cornerstone of the Washington Duke Hotel in 1924. The hotel was the first to be built in Durham, and was the product of a fundraising campaign by many leaders of industry and other interested parties, including Duke University administrators. The hotel was a glamorous destination for many years, but by the 1970s the gleam had faded. In 1975, the hotel was imploded. The site today is a plaza, best known for its bull statue.

Someone thoughtful apparently removed the time capsule, and many years later delivered it to the new Washington Duke Inn and Golf Club, adjacent to Duke’s West Campus. The staff of the Washington Duke Inn kindly took care of this time capsule until this year, when it was gifted to the University Archives, and we have an opportunity for the first time to highlight this fascinating collection in a new exhibit, on display outside the Biddle Rare Book Room.

The time capsule. Photo by Mark Zupan.
The time capsule. Photo by Mark Zupan.

The time capsule itself appears to be made from recycled printing plates, and was soldered by hand. Inside were examples of the products produced in Durham in 1924: cigarettes, tobacco bags, cotton cloth, hosiery, and socks. Also included were a photo of John Buchanan, the Chairman of the Executive Committee tasked with raising funds for the venture, and a photo Washington Duke, the hotel’s namesake. A key, possibly added to the time capsule many years later, is a reminder that this was a hotel from another era—no key cards here! A prospectus for the dazzling new hotel promises, “that Durham will have a real civic, social, and commercial center, for around the new Hotel will radiate every big function that transpires in our city.”

Durham-made hosiery from the time capsule.
Durham-made hosiery from the time capsule.

The exhibit will be on display outside the Biddle Rare Book Room until mid-June and is available during the general library’s open hours.

Post contributed by Val Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.

Durham’s Beardy Bros

We have collections and rare books from so many far-flung locations, but we occasionally come across historical materials documenting life right here in Durham.

Brush Brothers Plege BookThe city of Durham’s centennial celebrations took place from April 26th through May 2nd of 1953, and people were excited! Excited to reflect on how much Durham had progressed and also on what changes might or should take place in the next hundred years. A particularly strange way in which some chose to celebrate the occasion was to join the Brothers of the Brush. Never heard of ‘em?

Spearheaded by Dante Germino, an engaged Durham resident who worked for the Herald-Sun Co. at the time, the fund-raising effort collected $1.00 per member; and the 3093 members pledged to do their “civic duty” by growing and maintaining a “moustache, full beard, goat-tee, or side-burns” throughout the celebrations. If a member failed to keep his promise he was brought before a Kangaroo Court of his peers.

Roster of the Brothers of the Brush

Evidence from newspapers at the time show that many local businesses took up the challenge. Check out these fellows at Coman Lumber.

Coman Lumber Advertisement, Durham Herald-Sun, April 26, 1953.
Coman Lumber Advertisement, Durham Herald-Sun, April 26, 1953.
Coman Lumber Signatures from the Brothers of the Brush Registry.
Coman Lumber Signatures from the Brothers of the Brush Registry.

Want to find out if a local family member of yours was an official Brother of the Brush? We’ve got the registry in our holdings for you to peruse; and we’ve also got local newspapers from that time.

Times have changed. These days, with so many hipsters out and about in Durham, we’d have an easy time collecting funds from bearded folks throughout the city. We could use Duke Libraries’ button-maker to make buttons for participants! We’ll have to wait until 2053 for the next centennial, though.

Dominique has a lovely beard!Post contributed by Dominique Dery, Research Services Intern, who may or may not have the lustrous and full beard pictured at right.

Digitizing the LCRM Update #8 – A Preserved Love Story

Dried rose with correspondence, Asa Spaulding to Elna Bridgeforth, circa December 1931.  Asa and Elna Spaulding Papers, Box EC-4, Folder 3:  esgms04003022
Dried rose with correspondence, Asa Spaulding to Elna Bridgeforth, circa December 1931. Asa and Elna Spaulding Papers, Box EC-4, Folder 3: esgms04003022

Elna Spaulding is a central figure in the materials that Duke has digitized for the Content, Context, and Capacity Grant.  The records of the Women-in-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes, an organization that Mrs. Spaulding founded and led from 1968 until 1974, are available now.  In addition, all of Mrs. Spaulding’s personal papers have been digitized and will shortly become available for viewing.

In anticipation of both the publication of Elna Spaulding’s myriad professional accomplishments and Valentine’s Day, this month’s update focuses on the personal connections underlying the accomplished careers of Elna and Asa Spaulding. In the years prior to their wedding on June 24, 1933, Asa Spaulding and Elna Bridgeforth corresponded regularly.  The following two quotes are from letters that Mr. Spaulding sent to Miss Bridgeforth:

“I would not put you out of my life if I could, and I could if I would…Do you know the song: ‘I wouldn’t change you for the World.’  The words are quite significant.” (December 30, 1931)

“As I start out upon the first day of a New Year it is with thoughts of you and with [a] heart full of thanksgiving for what the past year has meant to us and with much anticipation as to what lies before us.  I wish I might look into the future and see.” (January 1, 1932)

Unfortunately, we do not have Elna Bridgeforth’s replies, but we know that she kept a rose that Asa gave her with one of these letters (pictured here) throughout her life.  We encourage readers to peruse the correspondence between the future Mr. and Mrs. Spaulding to gain a unique look into one of the most influential couples in the modern history of Durham.  You may even find inspiration for a Valentine’s Day note of your own.

Post contributed by Josh Hager, CCC Project Graduate Assistant.

Durham Tobacco History, In a Box

As a new research services librarian at the Rubenstein Library, it’s been fascinating to explore what we have in the library. People have this idea that our collections are made up of only old books and paper, but our holdings are far more diverse than that, as I’m sure our blog readers know. Recently, a researcher was looking at a box from the Julian Shakespeare Carr Papers and when they returned the box I noticed it was oddly light and also labeled as fragile. Curious, I opened the box to find strange dark brown lumps sealed in plastic bags.

Box 2 of the Julian Shakespeare Carr Papers
Box 2 of the Julian Shakespeare Carr Papers
Tobacco Twists
Tobacco Twists

Fortunately there was small piece of paper in the box explaining that I was looking at tobacco twists from 1885 that were made in Durham, N.C. by the W. T. Blackwell & Company, which Julian Shakespeare Carr became a partner of in 1871. Tobacco twists were made by braiding and twisting tobacco leaves together into a sort of rope that could then be knotted or coiled, like these examples. While tobacco twists are strange looking today, they were one of the most common forms of tobacco in the 1800s. Consumers could cut off as much tobacco as they needed, whether it was headed for their pipe for smoking or straight into their mouths for chewing.

Bull Durham Cigarettes
Bull Durham Cigarettes

However, in the late 19th century Americans began to move away from chewing tobacco and pipes toward cigarettes. This box contains another Blackwell & Company product: Bull Durham cigarettes. These cigarettes are still wrapped in their paper pack, so you can’t get a good look at them, but if you could you would find filterless, hand-rolled cigarettes. At this time the cigarette production hadn’t been mechanized so it was an incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Even the best factory workers were only able to roll 4 or 5 cigarettes a minute.

Blackwell’s competitor and Durham neighbor,  W. Duke, Sons & Company pioneered the use of the recently invented cigarette rolling machine in 1884, enabling them to produce up to 200 cigarettes a minute from one machine and sell those cigarettes at a substantially lower cost. By the end of the century W. Duke, Sons & Company became the dominant tobacco company in Durham and the country, and Blackwell & Company and its Bull Durham brand eventually ended up as part of the Duke’s growing tobacco empire.

Post contributed by Kate Collins, Research Services Librarian.


The Curious Case of the Curator’s Statue

Benjamin Newton Duke
Benjamin Newton Duke. From the University Archives Photograph Collection.

Recently, I was tasked with the job of researching and learning about the life of Benjamin Newton Duke, affectionately known as “Mr. Ben.” Mr. Ben was the older brother of James B. Duke, and one of tobacco tycoon Washington Duke’s children.

J.B. was placed in charge of many of the family’s business ventures and became famous for his role in running American Tobacco and other Duke ventures, but Ben was the Duke family’s chief philanthropist. He gave away copious amounts of the family’s sizeable wealth, and was known for his generosity. He also served on several charitable boards, such as the Oxford Orphan Asylum north of Durham.

The purpose of my assignment was to create a timeline (coming soon!) that tells the story of Ben Duke’s remarkable life through words and pictures. In creating the timeline, I looked through boxes upon boxes of photos, letters, and ledgers related to his life. Among the photos that I looked at was a series of interior shots of his home in Durham, “Four Acres,” before it was demolished.

Postcard of Four Acres, the home of Benjamin Newton Duke.
Postcard of Four Acres, the home of Benjamin Newton Duke. From the University Archives Postcard Collection.

Somewhere in the lot was this photo, a look at one of the rooms in Four Acres. If you look closely at the photo, you’ll notice a statue on a pedestal on the right side.

Interior of Four Acres.
Interior of Four Acres. From the Benjamin Newton Duke Papers.

As part of our ongoing renovation preparation work, we have been researching the origins and provenance of some artifacts in our possession. One of these was a statue that has been residing in the office of the Duke University Libraries’ Exhibits Curator for a decade. We had documentation that the statue came from Four Acres, but we had no photographic evidence to prove it: until now. This series of previously unexamined photographs helped us confirm that the statue in the Exhibits Curator’s office is, in fact, the statue from Four Acres.

It’s nice to know that this simple project of learning about Mr. Ben has connected us so tangibly to all that he did for Duke University.

Post contributed by Maureen McCormick, Drill Intern for the Duke University Archives.

Digitizing the LCRM: Update #5, Getting Out the Vote

With election fever infecting a large part of the country, it is only appropriate that this month’s featured documents from Duke’s CCC Project digitized collections are newspaper advertisements about voter turnout from the Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers.  What makes these documents particularly interesting—and disturbing—is the demographic group that they targeted:  white voters frightened about the perceived usurpation of power by an African-American voting bloc.

Political Advertisement, Undetermined Newspaper, [May 1949?]:
Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers, Box 10, Folder 2.
Political Advertisements, Undetermined Newspaper, [May 1949?]:
Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers, Box 10, Folder 2.
These advertisements likely appeared in one of Durham’s newspapers in the days before the local elections of May 1949.  I determined the probable date by looking at the other materials in the Harris Papers located near these clippings.  Two possible dates emerged—May 1949 and November 1956.  While both dates are plausible, the fact that the advertisements speak specifically to Durham’s leadership rather than a presidential or gubernatorial election makes 1949 more likely.  In addition, the fact that Election Day was a Saturday is another strike against 1956.  We encourage readers of this blog to decipher the exact date of these advertisements as well as their original newspaper(s) and the persons behind the generically-named “Public Spirited Citizens of the Community.”

Beyond determining the provenance of these advertisements, we anticipate that most readers will find these advertisements most interesting for their racial arguments.  The fears that undergirded these advertisements relied on the two-pronged belief that African-American voters would turn out in large numbers and that all of those voters would cast their ballots monolithically.  While the language in the advertisements is clearly prejudiced, its reliance upon believing that African-American leaders were successfully organizing get-out-the-vote efforts is an oddly-backhanded compliment to Harris and his political allies.  The language in these advertisements is ripe for further analysis, so we encourage our readers to dive in and become immersed in the racial and political history of Rencher Nicholas Harris’s time on the Durham City Council.

The grant-funded CCC Project is designed to digitize selected manuscripts and photographs relating to the long civil rights movement. For more about Rubenstein Library materials being digitized through the CCC Project, check out previous progress updates posted here at The Devil’s Tale

Post contributed by Josh Hager, CCC Graduate Assistant.

Digitizing the LCRM: Update #1

Rencher Nicholas Harris was Durham’s first African-American city councilman as well as a member of the Board of Education and the Secretary for the Board of Directors of Lincoln Hospital. His papers, collected at the Rubenstein Library and now digitized, cover the scope of his civic efforts from public health to transit planning. For example, the document shown below is a budgetary analysis of Durham school cafeterias in 1959—and a prime example of how civic documents demonstrate racial realities.

Rencher Nicholas Harris Document
Click to enlarge.

At first glance, the document lists the budgets of all of the public school cafeterias in Durham, separated into white and “negro” categories. Examine the figures more closely and the depth of racism in the school segregation policy becomes clear. Compare, for example, the operation expenses of white Durham High and African-American Hillside High ($68,475.27 to $39,346.22, respectively). In addition, the white schools show a net income of $6,205.02 versus the net monetary loss of the African-American schools of $4,638.23. It is up to researchers to determine the full explanation and significance of these figures.

Fortunately, this document, along with a host of other records containing information on historic impetuses and efforts for civil equality in North Carolina, will soon become available online. Duke University Libraries’ Digital Production Center is currently participating in the Content, Context, and Capacity Project led by the Triangle Research Libraries Network (Duke, NC State, UNC, and NC Central).

This grant-funded initiative is designed to digitize selected manuscripts and photographs relating to the long civil rights movement. For more information on this project, including updates on the progress of digitization, please check out the CCC website. As part of the outreach efforts of the CCC Project, monthly blog posts to The Devil’s Tale will provide updates on the latest Rubenstein Library collections to be digitized for the project. Stay tuned!

Post contributed by Josh Hager, CCC Graduate Assistant.

The Mystery of Emily Johnson’s Headstone

Close-Up of Emily Johnson's HeadstoneAccording to oral tradition, Emily Johnson’s headstone was discovered in the 1960s at the construction site of the Divinity School addition.  It remained in a closet there until 1993, when it was transferred to the custody of the Duke University Archives.   How the headstone ended up on campus and where it originally resided remain a mystery to this day.

Over the years, several attempts were made by William King, University Archivist Emeritus, to locate information about Johnson and or her descendants in an effort to relocate the headstone to its appropriate resting place.   He found no record of any real estate transaction between the University and the Johnson family, indicating that it’s likely the headstone did not originally reside on West Campus land, most of which had been family farmsteads.

There are also no listings for Emily Johnson in nearby Durham cemeteries, such as Maplewood.  While death certificates usually provide burial location for the decedent, they were not regularly issued in North Carolina until 1913, eighteen years after Johnson’s death.

Duke University Archives staff would love to know where Emily Johnson’s headstone belongs.  If any blog readers would like to help take up the cause, your efforts would be most appreciated (contact us!).  Until such time as the headstone can be returned to its rightful place, Duke University Archives will continue to serve as its custodian.

Emily Johnson's Headstone in its Box

Special thanks to Jennifer Blomberg, Senior Conservation Technician in the Conservation Services Department, for making a custom box for the headstone.  To read more about the construction of the box, please check out Preservation Underground’s related blog post.

Post contributed by Kim Sims, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.