Monday, February 27, 2012

AP: Mysterious orbs confound NC county for decades

If you've read this blog before, you know we are HUGE fans of North Carolina's many ghost stories. One of my all-time faves is the Brown Mountain Lights. Well, the Associated Press recently tackled this age-old legend.

Two orange orbs, just about 10 feet off the ground, floated past Steve Woody and his father as they hunted deer more than 50 years ago. The mysterious lights passed them, then dropped down the side of a gorge in the Blue Ridge foothills.

For at least a century, the Brown Mountain Lights have confounded residents and tourists in a rugged patch of Burke County, bobbing and weaving near a modest peak. Are they reflections from automobile headlights? Brush fires? A paranormal phenomenon, or something natural not yet explained by science?

"I didn't feel anything spooky or look around for Martians or anything like that," Woody said. "It was just a unique situation. It's just as vivid now as when I was 12 years old."

Whatever the explanation, tourism officials are hoping all those decades of unanswered questions add up to a boost in visitors making their way to scenic outlooks around Linville Gorge with the goal of spotting something mysterious.

Unexplained mysteries like the Brown Mountain Lights have been the subject of cable TV documentaries and have fueled vast online communities of amateur investigators. Ed Phillips, Burke County's tourism director, is hoping to capitalize on that.

Earlier this month, a sellout crowd of 120 paid $20 a head to attend a symposium on the lights at Morganton City Hall, and there was a crowd outside the door hoping to get in at the last minute.

"It's a good problem to have," Phillips said. "I could have sold 500 tickets."


The Brown Mountain Lights have drawn serious scientific interest since the 1920s, when the U.S. Geological Survey issued a report concluding the lights were reflections from automobiles, trains and brush fires.

Daniel Caton, a professor in the physics and astronomy department at Appalachian State University, thinks that's part of the explanation for what people have reported seeing over the years. But Caton thinks there's more to the lights, at least in some cases.

Caton said that about seven years ago, he was ready to give up studying the lights when he began hearing from people who said they saw them from mere feet away, not miles across the Linville Gorge. Those accounts sounded to Caton a lot like firsthand reports of ball lightning, a little-understood but naturally occurring phenomenon involving luminous spheres often said to move or bounce about in the air.

No more Andy's burgers ... well, sorta

Like Hardee's before it, Andy's Burgers, Shakes & Fries has become something of an Eastern North Carolina success story. The burger restaurant chain has been so successful, in fact, it is looking to branch out. And because of this, the restaurant has changed its name to Highway 55.

From a release:

Although the name is changing, the restaurant chain’s concept will stay the same as it’s been since its establishment in 1991 and Highway 55 will continue to deliver the brand’s traditional American classics in the same family-friendly, ‘50s diner setting. Patrons can expect to see the new Highway 55 signs in each of the 100 existing locations by the end of summer 2012, and in all new locations throughout the southeast.

The name change was sparked by a potential legal battle over the federal trademark for the name Andy’s that arose as the company prepared to expand outside of its home state. After being known as Andy’s for 20 years, founder and president Kenny Moore decided that a systemwide switch to Highway 55 was the most cost effective way to grow the brand, and would mark the beginning of its next 20 years of success.

“We’re looking at the name change as a positive opportunity to start new and fresh,” Moore said. “Customers will see we’re the same Andy’s they’ve always known, the only difference is the new name. What we’ve built for the past 20 years isn’t going to change at all.”

The company certainly knows where its bread is buttered.

"To celebrate the new name, a mural map of Highway 55, a 192-mile highway stretching across North Carolina from Durham to Oriental, will be painted on the walls of each location. A timeline painted above the map will give patrons a glimpse of Highway 55’s history from 1991 to the present," said the release.

“Some of our locations are 20 years old, so we are using the shift to Highway 55 as a way to refurbish,” said Moore. “We’re changing uniforms and signage – we’ll gradually phase out the old name and logos.”

Moore originally selected the name Andy’s back in 1991 when he opened his first location in Goldsboro, N.C. Andy, Moore’s son, was 18 months old at the time. Since its inception, the chain has stayed true to its classic American concept while growing to include more than 100 restaurants across North Carolina. This year, as Highway 55, the chain will expand outside of North Carolina for the first time when a location opens in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The Myrtle Beach restaurant is the start of a greater plan to open 275 additional restaurants in the southeast over the next 6-7 years.

Of those 275 locations, area development agreements are in the works to open 100 locations in Florida—with the first location to open in Palm City— 75 locations in western North Carolina, and 50 locations in South Carolina and Virginia each. A new location in Snow Hill, N.C. is slated to open in mid-February, and the Myrtle Beach location will open before April. Looking ahead to the fourth quarter of 2012, a store in Greenville, N.C. is planned to open near the end of the year.

Longtime Andy’s franchisees J.R. Cottle and Chris LaCoe are partnering together to develop the 50 upcoming South Carolina Highway 55 locations. Cottle currently owns three North Carolina restaurants—in Rockingham, Lumberton and Locust, and LaCoe owns four in Gum Branch, Leland, Shallotte and Surf City.

“We’re positioned to go into this year with a new name, a fresh start and ambitious plans for growth,” Moore said. “People will watch and see Highway 55 really take off this year.”

Thoughts on this? I'm kinda "meh" with the name change.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The shad boat: The 'pick-up truck' of watercraft

The latest issue of Coastwatch*, the N.C. Sea Grant program's beautiful publication, has a wonderful piece on some of North Carolina's more "coastal" state symbols, such as the state shell (Scotch bonnet -- pronounced "bonn-ay") and the state fish (red drum).

Sure, it's interesting enough to have an official state shell or state fish, but I've always been intrigued that North Carolina can boast an official state boat. I knew little about the shad boat before reading this article; it now makes perfect sense why it's the state boat.

"Despite its graceful appearance, the shad boat, commonly referred to as the 'pickup truck' of watercraft, navigated our not-so-tranquil sounds in the late 19th and early 20th centuries," writes Coastwatch.

Tom Harrison with Go Wild in Washington County has more about the history of the boat:

The Albemarle Sound, being an expansive but relatively shallow body of water, has a reputation for being extremely rough in high winds. Therefore in the days of sail, traditional small sailing craft were generally not well-suited for weather conditions in the Albemarle Sound. This led to the development and evolution of what became known as the Albemarle Sound Shad Boat.

This shallow draft work boat is unique because it is the only known America sailboat design that had a combination of a spritsail, jib, and a topsail! (A sprit is a pole or spar extended diagonally upward from a mast to the topmost corner of a fore-and-aft sail, serving to extend the sail. A spritsail doesn’t usually have a traditional boom along the bottom of the sail.) The topsail was added to provide additional working canvas high in the air so the boats could work close to forested shores that would becalm the lower spritsail or jib.

The Albemarle Sound Shad Boat is a durable round-bottomed boat with a heart-shaped transom. It was developed after the Civil War and was also known as a “seine boat”. It had a straight bow that was sharply raked, (a boating term meaning, inclined from vertical). Typically, the Albemarle Sound Shad Boat was 18’-33’ in length and was constructed with native Atlantic White Cedar, locally known as Juniper. In boat shops this light-weight naturally rot resistant wood was often called “Southern Cedar”.

The hull was carvel planked, meaning the board planking ran longitudinal and was attached to the frame with nails or screws. The advantage of this traditional construction method was that if a board began to rot or was damaged, it could easily be removed and replaced without ripping the boat apart. The hull was un-decked except for washboards along the gunwales and was most often painted white. It was ballasted with 15-30 sandbags, depending on the size of the boat. The sandbag covers were made of sailcloth and the sandbags were shifted from the center to the windward side during a blow.

According to Coastwatch, original shad boats are still displayed at several locations in North Carolina, including the Roanoke Island Festival Park, the Currituck Heritage Park Museum in Corolla, the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City and the Port O'Plymouth Maritime Museum.

As a (very) amateur sailor, it seems like these boats would be easy on which to learn. Is this true, or am I just WAY off base?

*If you're a fan of the coast, seafood, sea life, etc., and you're not reading Coastwatch, you are really missing out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Our State mag unveils new travel N.C. mobile phone app

From a press release:

Smartphone users have a new digital tool to help them discover and explore the Tar Heel state as Our State magazine, North Carolina's long- time source of travel information and stories, launches a new app called TRAVEL NORTH CAROLINA.

Perfect for North Carolina residents looking to travel or for visitors from out of state, the app is free to download for Apple and Google Android devices. It comes pre-loaded more than 1,000 points of interest around the state, organized by region of the state into themed tours and categories. Other features include:

  • Easy-to-use navigation, organized by region of North Carolina.
  • Turn-by-turn GPS directions to all points of interest.
  • Clickable addresses, phone numbers, and websites for easy planning
  • Photos, videos, and social media links for selected points of interest.
  • Themed tours including attractions, historical sites, lighthouses, museums, national and state parks, outdoor adventures, shopping, and more.

· Statewide tours like "Breakfast in North Carolina" and the "North Carolina Food Tour" inspired by Our State magazine content.

TRAVEL NORTH CAROLINA is available for download in the App Store and Android Market.
Details are available at

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

N.C. film news involves 'Caged Heat' (code name for 'Iron Man 3')

There's a flurry of North Carolina-related motion picture news of late. First was the report that Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly will begin work in Wilmington next month.

Producer Judy Cairo confirmed Friday afternoon reports from national entertainment publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter that the independent film "Writers" is on its way to the area.

"We'll be filming in Wilmington in March, primarily around Wrightsville Beach," Cairo said. "Greg Kinnear plays a famous novelist who lives in a beach community, thus the attraction of shooting in Wilmington. Jennifer Connelly plays his ex-wife, with whom he's obsessed."

The Wilmington Regional Film Commission's website, according to the Star-News, now lists "The Occult" and "Heart of the Country" in preproduction, along with "The Conjuring" and "Caged Heat," which is widely known as the code name for "Iron Man 3."

Johnny Griffin, director of the film commission, said both new movies are feature films and "here and in the process of getting organized" for production. He said he was unable to disclose additional details.

According to the website for "Heart of the Country," produced by Bayridge Films, the movie's principal photography is tentatively slated for March and April in Wilmington and New York City. It's based on the novel by Rene Gutteridge and John Ward and is a modern retelling of "The Prodigal" story.

No further information on "The Occult" was available Tuesday morning.

And, finally, Mike Wiley is getting rave reviews as he performs ALL 36 ROLES in the feature film, "Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till," according to a press release. A N.C. screening is set for Feb. 13.

Wiley and the North Carolina filmmakers deliver riveting performances in the story, trial, and unbelievable confessions of those accused of Emmett Till's murder in this 1955 tragedy which changed the course of history in the United States.

Two and a half years in the making by award winning North Carolina filmmakers, the World and European premieres are now set for "Dar He". A screening for North Carolina media has been added to the calendar. ...

"Dar He: The Lynching of Emmett Till" was adapted from the critically acclaimed one man show written and performed by local theatre heavyweight, Mike Wiley, similarly titled "Dar He: The Story of Emmett Till." It is a true-crime drama of a 14-year old Black boy from Chicago murdered for allegedly whistling at a White woman while visiting family in Money, Mississippi in 1955. The screenplay was crafted from public record and the historic interviews conducted by William Bradford Huie of Look magazine. When the story was published, it became a lightning rod across the nation for moral outrage. "His death was a spark that ignited the Civil Rights Movement in America," Ed Bradley, Emmy Award-winning journalist.

"Dar He" was created by acclaimed North Carolina filmmakers who collaborated on other films including, "Empty Space" (2009) and "Wolf Call" (2010). These films are winners of fifteen festival awards, eight nominations, dozens of official selections, special screenings, and other honors. "Wolf Call" is currently on festival tour and nominated for a Black Reel Award for Outstanding Short Film. The international success of both these films helped inspire the making of "Dar He". Mr. Wiley is winner of numerous best actor awards from 2009 to 2011 for his performance in both films, including Best Actor at the 25th Black International Cinema Berlin and Best Actor at the Carrboro Film Festival in 2009 and 2010.