Thursday, May 28, 2009

Remembering the Fort Fisher Hermit

I can remember a class trip to Fort Fisher/Kure Beach in eighth grade or so (that would've been, oh, 1988 or '89) when the adults on the trip were swapping tales about once spotting the Fort Fisher Hermit, Robert E. Harrill.

Harrill, according to Carolina Beach Today, lived in a bunker and lived off the land, eating plants and animals.

The N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher will be showing the documentary, "The Fort Fisher Hermit: The Life & Death of Robert E. Harrill," May 31 (3 p.m.) and June 13 (8 a.m.).

The movie "explores this unique individual through a series of interviews, photographs and vintage film footage.

“We are ecstatic over the amount of visual documentation that has been collected” said Scott Davis, one of the forces behind the movie. “Robert Harrill has to be the most photographed homeless person in history,” added Bryan Mahoney.

(Image of Harrill from Carolina Beach Today)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More on David Stick

We referenced the passing of author David Stick in our "Quick hits" this a.m. The Charlotte Observer's Jack Betts has more here. Here's a snippet:

Stick, by the way, was not a native North Carolinian, but you can't tell that from his writing. He came to us as a boy from New Jersey, and served as a combat correspondent in World War II in the Marines along the way. But he was otherwise as thoroughly North Carolinian as it's possible to be.

When I read of his death Sunday at age 89 it saddened me to know that such a productive historian and folklorist of the N.C. coast had passed away. His 11 books are a living memorial to the depth and breadth of his knowledge. He wrote among other things "Graveyard of the Atlantic" (1952), "The Outer Banks of North Carolina" (1958), "The Ash Wednesday Storm" (1987), "Roanoke Island: The Beginnings of English America" (1983) and edited my favorite, "An Outer Banks Reader" (1998). The latter is a marvelous compendium of other folks' writings about the Banks, from early explorers to contemporary times. Writers include Rachel Carson, who did groundbreaking environmental work in the marshes near Beaufort, John Dos Passos, who wrote about “The Campers at Kitty Hawk” named Wilbur and Orville, and Observer writer Elizabeth Leland's piece "The Crab Picker" from her own book "Our Vanishing Coast" in 1992.

The summer reading season is upon us and there are a lot of good books to read, but if you haven't read David Stick in a while, or ever, you can't go wrong with “An Outer Banks Reader.”

Quick hits: A slew of stuff to get to

Forum will field proposals for Gullah/Geechee corridor
"It could be a tinge in your accent, or a story you heard from your grandfather.

"If something tells you that you’re a descendant of the Gullahs or Geechees, the commission to preserve their heritage wants to see you Thursday evening," says the Wilmington Star-News. "The state representatives of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission will have a public forum then at St. Stephen AME Zion Church to find out which projects people connected to that culture – or those interested in it – would like to see.

" 'Let them tell us their story,' Lana Carter, a commissioner from East Arcadia, said of Gullah descendants. People of that heritage came centuries ago as slaves from West Africa to the U.S. coast from Jacksonville, Fla., to Wilmington, and that’s now the length of the preservation corridor. ..."

AT hikers numbers increase 25 percent "Just days in, Murray McGill's path along the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is just beginning," says Gannett News Service.

"His legs are getting tired, shoulders are starting to wear down from the heavy backpack and his brow is wet as he hunts for a water refill at Clingman's Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

" 'Why do it? I have no idea. I'm crazy I guess. I have no idea why you do this,' Murray McGill said.

" It's the kind of hike you can't find in his home state of Florida. The swamp just doesn't have the same terrain as the mountainous jaunt through 14 states.

" 'There is a Florida trail. But no one does it,' he said with a laugh.

" This spring, more and more people are starting that same journey. Maine to Georgia or vice-versa.

"According the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it may be as many as 25 percent more setting out for the three to six month hike. ..."

19 places in N.C. added to National Historic Register
"Nineteen properties and districts across North Carolina have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, including three in Raleigh and one in Harnett County, state cultural resources officials said Tuesday," according to the News & Observer.

Among them are: Mount Hope Cemetery, just south of downtown Raleigh; Mary Elizabeth Hospital, built in 1920 at the intersection of Wake Forest Road and Glascock Street in Raleigh; and the Harrington-Dewar House near Holly Springs.

OBX author Stick dead at 89
"A man known for his writings about, and his love for, North Carolina's Outer Banks has died.

"Michael Stick of Chicago said Tuesday that his father, David Stick of Kitty Hawk, died of natural causes Sunday at Albemarle Hospital in Elizabeth City. He was 89," according to the AP.

"Stick's books include 'Graveyard of the Atlantic,' 'The Ash Wednesday Storm' and 'The Outer Banks of North Carolina,' ..."

Poe's bookcase stands in N. Raleigh

"In 1849, Edgar Allen Poe staggered to a drunken and delirious death on the streets of Baltimore, scattering to history some of the creepiest stories ever written -- the black cats and beating hearts that still scare children awake at midnight.

"And now, by an odd chance, you can see a sliver of Poe's literary life standing seven feet tall in Eliza Kraft Olander's sunny office, looking out on a cheerful garden of lilacs and roses," says the N&O's Josh Shaffer.

"She keeps paperback copies of Deepak Chopra and Anaïs Nin on the walnut shelves where Poe once stacked his own volumes. Though there's nothing tortured or black-hearted about North Raleigh, you can't help but picture his ghost floating past to flip through the pages.

" 'If it is haunted,' Olander said, 'I have a lot of religious stuff, too. I collect crosses from French cemeteries.' ..."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

All the world's a stage. But this one in Wilmington is pretty darn big!

Wilmington's EUE/Scren Gems Studios unveiled its new Stage 10 on Monday, a 37,500-square foot facility complete with 50-by-50-by-6-foot water tank for shooting "picture shows."

"Imagine an epic battle raging off 23rd Street. On one side, water monsters. On the other, people just trying to defend their lawns," says the Star-News.

"The stage can be split into two regular-size studios equipped with everything crews need to work independently. ...

"Also, Stage 10 can simulate day, night, wind, storms and fog, and has a 50-by-50-by-6-foot water tank carved in its belly. On Monday, movie lights backlit the stream feeding the tank, its water glistening against grounds that locals hope won't be bare for long. No productions are scheduled to film there yet, but Vassar said he's gotten inquiries from 12 to 15 production companies. ..."

The water tank is reportedly the third largest one in the North America for shooting underwater scenes.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

No more 'Earl' but 'OTH' renewed

NBC's "My Name is Earl" has reportedly been canceled, meaning no more TV presence (for now) for Kinston's Jaime Pressly.

It's been reported before that the idea for the show "just came" to creator Greg Garcia several years ago while he was vacationing on the Outer Banks. stated that "Earl" is co-produced and co-written by Raleigh native Bobby Bowman, so it's a double boo-hoo for the Wolfpack State.

In other N.C. TV news, "One Tree Hill" has reportedly been renewed; however, a couple of the main stars (not going to give it away) will not be back.

In addition, NBC has renewed "Parks and Recreation," which features Asheville native Paul Schneider as Mark Brendanawicz.

Ghost Town rescued

There may be hope after all for the embattled Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park.

Just a few days before Ghost Town in the Sky was set to open for the season, things weren't looking good for the beleaguered amusement park.Despite development of a multimillion-dollar strategic plan, town leaders balked at providing taxpayer money to help the troubled park get through another year of the recession.

But then Steve Shiver received a surprise birthday present [says the Citizen-Times].

Just when it appeared obvious the 43-year-old president and CEO of Ghost Town in the Sky was not going to receive the $200,000 short-term loan he requested from the town of Maggie Valley, an anonymous investor came forward and offered to provide the money.

“It was a wonderful birthday present,” Shiver said. “I was overwhelmed but extremely humbled.” ...

Shiver on Tuesday would not disclose how much money the investor pledged to the park, only saying that it was “enough.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't smoke 'em if ya got 'em!

That didn't take long.

"The country's largest tobacco-producing state is going smoke-free," says the N&O.

"North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue signed a bill into law Tuesday that bans smoking in restaurants and bars statewide. She signed the bill during a ceremony in the Old House Chamber of the state Capitol. ..."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Six more inducted into N.C. Sports Hall of Fame

The N.C. Sports Hall of Fame (based at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh) recently added a half-dozen new deserving members.

"John Swofford, ACC commissioner since 1997 and a former quarterback at North Carolina, is in the class. Also in the class are Appalachian State head football coach Jerry Moore, North Carolina women's basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell and former East Carolina and Wake Forest men's basketball coach Dave Odom," said WRAL.

"Former North Carolina State running back and Canadian Football League star Willie Burden, and veteran golfer Roger Watson are also inductees."

The News & Observer's Caulton Tudor writes today that it's only a matter of time before Carolina Hurricanes legends Ron Francis and Glenn Wesley are added.

"Nowhere to be found is anyone with a hockey background. That should change soon," writes Tudor. "Under the 10-year state residency rule for non-North Carolina natives, former Carolina Hurricanes stars and current employees Ron Francis and Glen Wesley will be eligible for consideration in the 2010 voting."

Drought is over, if you want it

From the AP:

Above average rainfall over the past few months has lifted all of North Carolina out of drought for the first time in more than two years.

The federal drought map released Thursday shows that widespread rainfall in recent weeks brought improvements throughout the state, most notably in 14 mountain counties that had been North Carolina's only area still experiencing drought.


Does this mean I can irresponsibly water my lawn now?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tar Heel Traveler: A spot of Merry Old England in Ocracoke

WRAL's Scott Mason has a fascinating "Tar Heel Traveler" about four British navy sailors who washed ashore on Ocracoke Island during World War II.

Two of the men were identified, and two were not. All four were laid to rest on the island, and that spot of land was deeded to England after the war.

Smoking ban likely to be a reality

I remember visiting Ireland seven years ago, and the big news story at that time was that smoking was to be banned in all pubs. PUBS! It was the first time that I thought something like that could actually happen in North Carolina.

Well, it looks like the state that has long held up tobacco as king will soon tell folks to take it outside.

Smoking will soon be prohibited in bars and restaurants across North Carolina, a state where tobacco was once revered for the money it generated for farmers, universities and community and cultural institutions [according to the News & Observer].

The state House on Wednesday narrowly approved a compromise with the Senate on a smoking ban. The legislation moves to Gov. Beverly Perdue, who said she will sign into law a bill that would have been unthinkable not long ago in a state with such strong economic and cultural ties to the plant. The ban would go into effect Jan. 2.

Perdue, a Democrat, called it "an important and historic day for North Carolina."


As you would imagine, when a bill passes by such a slim margin (62-56), there was mixed reaction.

Health advocates pushed the bill that was opposed by lawmakers from areas were tobacco-growing and cigarette factories are big employers [according to the Greenville Daily Reflector].

Supporters noted a 2006 report by the U.S. Surgeon General that no amount of exposure to secondhand smoke could be considered safe, and that servers who worked in restaurants and bars where patrons smoked were forced to sacrifice their health for a paycheck. A counter argument was that adults who run businesses or patronize them should choose whether to spend time in smoke-filled rooms.

"This is about the freedom and rights to do on your property what you see fit," said Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett County, whose rural home county includes many tobacco growers. "As well-intended as this bill may be, it's wrong. It's wrong to take away freedom."

Philosophically, I understand the argument that this could be seen as an infringement on personal rights. But, then again, so could making it illegal to not buckle your seatbelt, and I, for one, am thankful that is a law. After all, as the gorgeous blond in this video says, what about the children?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

'U.S. tourists' spent almost $17 billion in N.C.

The headline from makes it sound like North Carolina is a foreign country (no jokes, please). But the fact remains: Americans spent a lot of jack in the Old North State last year on tourism: a record $16.9 billion.

That's billion, with a 'B.'

The visitor spending topped the $16.5 billion figure from 2007, which was the previous record, and positions the state to top the $17.1 billion in total visitor spending – domestic and foreign tourists – set in 2007.

"The tourism industry is a critical economic engine for North Carolina, and this continued growth in revenues is a positive sign,” Gov. Beverly Perdue said in a statement.

The figures are the preliminary results of an annual study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association for the state Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development. The study uses sales and tax revenue data and employment figures to determine the overall impact of visitor spending in North Carolina.

State tax revenues from visitors increased 3.5 percent from 2007, to $843.2 million. Local tax revenues also increased, gaining 2.5 percent to $542.3 million.

During the last five years, visitor spending has increased 27.3 percent, while state and local tax revenue is up 20.7 percent, according to the annual study.

North Carolina also moved from the seventh-most-visited state in 2007 to the sixth-most-visited last year, a study by TNS TravelsAmerica found.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Charlotte (literally) giving Atlanta a run for its money

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ("Covering Dixie like the dew") has a nice piece on the burgeoning rivalry between Charlotte and Atlanta as they battle to see who is the "King of the South." Clearly Atlanta has been the unofficial capital of the South for many, many years. But the Queen City is making inroads in many ways.

From his 15th floor City Hall aerie, Mayor Pat McCrory sees what Atlanta’s missing.

To his left sits the soon-to-be-completed NASCAR Hall of Fame. Straight ahead is the headquarters for GMAC Financial Services. And, running up the spine of this slim and sleek city, rolls a Euro-sleek light-rail train.

Atlanta offered big bucks for NASCAR, tried to land GMAC and has suffered a long, unrequited romance with light rail. Charlotte, like a feisty, undersized boxer, punches above its weight.

“We could’ve easily become a Knoxville, Greensboro or Richmond,” McCrory said. “Instead we compete, fortunately, with Denver, Dallas and Atlanta.”

Charlotte, the Queen City, maintains pretensions of one day surpassing Atlanta as economic King of the South. Sam Williams, head of Atlanta’s Chamber of Commerce, says dream on.

“We don’t really compete tooth-and-nail with Charlotte because the companies we go after (are) in the international trade, logistics and biomedical fields and they’re not looking to go to Charlotte,” he said. “Dallas, Tampa and northern Virginia — those are our consistent competitors.”

Williams is most likely right. However, Charlotte is closing the gap. It has better (and by better we mean less-congested) traffic, a more reliable mass transit system and -- let's be honest -- the better reputation as the safer place to live. (Though it is all relative; most North Carolinians consider Charlotte too big and too dangerous with too much traffic. Atlantans probably consider Charlotte small and backwards.)

Charlotte also has an advantage over Atlanta: the ability to watch her and see how NOT to do some things.

“We’ve had the opportunity to learn from Atlanta’s mistakes,” McCrory said in a recent interview. “We’ve seen how to grow and how not to grow. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. We’ve had the advantage of growing up second.”

And, for the foreseeable future, that’s where Charlotte will remain. With nearly three times the population and a much more diverse and global economic base, Atlanta won’t relinquish its top-dog crown anytime soon.

Charlotte will bide its time, happy with its steady rise from textile town to banking capital. It too experiences bigger-city growing pains. The recession gobsmacked the city’s financial industry. Charlotte must get its economic house in order.

But once it does …

“Clearly the gap has narrowed,” said John Connaughton, an economics professor at UNC Charlotte. “Will Atlanta always be bigger? Yes, during the lifetimes of most of the people here today. Long term? That’s anybody’s guess.”

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ken Burns and the Blue Ridge Parkway

According to an email from the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, documentary film maker Ken Burns has completed a new film, "The National Parks: America's Best Idea. UNC-TV will air the six-episode, 12-hour work in its entirety in the fall.

This spectacular series was filmed over the course of more than six years at some of nature's most spectacular locales, including North Carolina's own Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The documentary is a story of people and a story full of struggle and conflict, high ideals and crass opportunism, stirring adventure and enduring inspiration - set against the most breathtaking backdrops imaginable.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Do you like seafood? (Opens mouth)

Here's some good news on the economic/agricultural front: North Carolina's commercial seafood harvest increased by 13 percent last year.

The state Division of Marine Fisheries said Monday that the seafood landings of 71.2 million pounds in 2008 marked the end of a five-year decline in the seafood industry," according to the Associated Press. "The division said more than 32 million pounds of the harvest was blue crab. The crab accounted for $25 million of the $87 million total value of seafood. That was an increase of $4 million over 2007. Division official Alan Bianchi said shrimp harvests were down 1 percent and that might be caused by last year's high fuel prices. North Carolina's oyster harvest was up 5 percent, to 88,008 bushels."

(Blue Crab image from

Monday, May 04, 2009

Ghost Town in dire straits

Maggie Valley amusement park Ghost Town in the Sky wants the town to loan it a couple hundred 'K' -- despite the park's recent bankruptcy filing.

"The money is needed to start the season, which is planned to happen May 22, said Steve Shiver, the park's chief executive.

"Ghost Town Partners LLC is seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection," says the Citizen-Times. "In its federal court filing, the company claimed assets of about $13 million and debts of $12.3 million. ...

"At least one member of Maggie Valley's Board of Aldermen, which will have the final say on making the loan, is against the idea.

"Alderman Colin Edwards said he can't vote for the loan because the park hasn't provided a plan to repay the amount and doesn't have collateral.

"Edwards said he also is concerned that the park might not get Chapter 11 protection and might instead end up in Chapter 7, which would mean the court would liquidate the company to pay its debts. ..."

Click here for the rest of the article.