Love, American Woodcock Style

There’s hope for the pudgy and short-legged


By Susan Campbell

February is the month for love and, for the American woodcock, this is certainly the case! By mid-month this pudgy, short-legged, long-billed bird of forest and field is in full courtship mode. However, most folks have no clue since their unique singing and dancing occurs completely under the cover of darkness.

American woodcocks, also called “timberdoodles,” are cousins of the long-legged shorebirds typically found at the beach. Like plovers, turnstones, dowitchers and other sandpipers, these birds have highly adapted bills and cryptic plumage. Woodcocks, having no need to wade, sport short legs that they use to slowly scuffle along as they forage in moist woods and shrubby fields. This behavior is thought to startle worms and other soft-bodied invertebrates in the leaf litter and/or just below the soil surface. Their long, sensitive bills are perfect for probing and/or grabbing food items. And camouflaged plumage hides woodcocks from all but the most discerning eye.

Speaking of eyes, American woodcocks have eyes that are large and uniquely arranged on their heads. They are very high up and far back, allowing them to see both potential predators above as well as food items in front and below them.

Beginning in late winter, male American woodcocks find open areas adjacent to wet, wooded feeding habitat and begin to display at dusk. They alternately do their thing on the ground and then in the air. A male begins by walking around in the open area uttering repeated loud “peeent” calls. He will then take off and fly in circles high into the sky, twittering as he goes. Finally, the male will turn and drop sharply back to the ground in zigzag fashion, chirping as he goes, and then begin another round of vocalizations.

In the Piedmont and Sandhills of North Carolina, displaying begins on calm nights in December. Some of these males are most likely Northern birds that have made the journey to the Southeast for the colder weather. They may just be practicing ahead of their real effort — in early spring back up North. Regardless, females visit multiple spots where males are known to do their thing before they choose a mate. So, it behooves the males to display as often as possible to impress as many females as possible during the weeks that they are on the hunt for a mate.

Although long hunted for sport, it was Aldo Leopold, the renowned conservationist, who implored sportsmen to better appreciate these little birds. They are well adapted for a forest floor existence, hidden from all but their mates come this time of the year. And, on rare occasions, from birdwatchers keen on getting a glimpse of the American woodcock’s antics.  OH

Susan Campbell would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted at


February Books


Carolina Built, by Kianna Alexander

Based on the life of real estate magnate Josephine N. Leary, Carolina Built tells the story of a woman born into slavery who gained her freedom at the age of 9 and succeeds in building a real estate empire in Edenton, North Carolina. Striving to create a legacy for her two daughters, Josephine teaches herself to be a businesswoman, to manage her finances, and to make smart investments. But with each passing year, it grows more and more difficult to juggle work and family obligations. Alexander brings Leary to life in her page-turning book of historical fiction as Josephine becomes a wife, landowner, business partner and visionary.

Love and Saffron, by Kim Fay

This witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine. When 27-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter — and a gift of saffron — to 59-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a food writer. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine. While she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic. The two women bond through their letters, building a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the unexpected events in their own lives. Told in three parts, this tender and honest book is a reminder that we are never finished growing, changing and loving.

The Christie Affair,
by Nina de Gramont

“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman . . . ” So begins The Christie Affair, a stunning new novel that reimagines the unexplained 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie that captivated the world. The story is narrated by Miss Nan O’Dea, a fictional character based on a real person who infiltrated the wealthy, rarified world of author Christie and her husband, Archie — a world of London townhomes, country houses, shooting parties and tennis matches. First, she became part of their world, and then she became Archie’s mistress. What did it have to do with the mysterious 11 days that Agatha Christie went missing? The answer takes you back in time, to Ireland, to a young girl in love, to a time before The Great War, to a star-crossed couple destined to be together until war and their shameful secrets tore them apart.

Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson

In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother’s death and her hidden past — a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California, beginning and ending with her famous black cake. Eleanor Bennett passes away in present-day California, leaving behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake — made from a family recipe — and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking journey that unfolds challenges everything the siblings thought they knew about their family, the secrets their mother held back and the mystery of a long-lost child.  OH

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally.

Home by Design

The Party

A daughter’s startling serenade offers a parting gift of joy to her elderly mother


By Cynthia Adams

A moving episode of Grace and Frankie, “The Party to End All Parties,” concerns a terminally ill friend, Babe, who wishes to exit the astral plane on her own terms. Babe teaches a master class on dying.

Her celebratory, clear-eyed plan required a party.

Our more conventional, terminally ill mother’s exit shared few aspects with Babe’s leave-taking. This was Charlotte not Los Angeles, after all — and we had no plan apart from celebrating her 91st with a party.

Mom rallied as we arrived bearing cake, food, flowers and gifts. Our fragile matriarch was surprisingly alert. Her excitement and engagement were so unexpected it was startling, even unsettling.

Watching her hold court, somehow summoning the strength to sit upright, something clicked in me as someone announced entertainment before gifts. One grandchild read an essay. Another sang Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” But there would be no dignified reading of an essay or poem. No decorum from me.

I rose solemnly. Standing before our emaciated mother, her body sunk into a recliner, her dark eyes fluttered wide as I announced I had discovered my inner yodeler.

Swinging like a batter on the mound, I pretended to wind up and warm up, swinging my arms and shaking out my hands. I let loose a hideous howl.

“YOOOOOO-deeeeeeeeee-lady-hooooooo,” I hollered.

From the expression on everybody’s face but Mom’s, I realized they thought I had done something inexplicably, stupidly horrible. My stunned family obviously did not realize this foolishness was a play on the movie about Florence Foster Jenkins, the 1940s socialite played by Meryl Streep.

Jenkins seemed unaware that her voice was hideous, however.

I knew my yodeling attempt was hideous.

But Mom was grinning and said, “Do it again!”

“YOOOOOO-deeeeeeeeee-lady-hooooooo,” I yowled, windmilling my arms while watching my family’s stupefied faces.

Mom giggled and conjured up a teasing nickname from the past, “Cindy Lou, you just won’t do!”

At this encouragement, I let loose a shriller, off-key yodel, one alerting the neighborhood dogs and the pond geese to flee.

Mom shrieked. “Such foolishness!” she chided, still laughing, her birdlike chest rising and falling with the effort. My heart lifted at her face, now alight, even joyful. We both wiped away tears of laughter while the rest of the family gaped, and I dipped into a low bow.

Her party rally was brief. She strongly had resisted the inevitable, choosing longevity over quality of life, until neither was possible.

Two days later, Mom spoke weakly, with strength remaining to grasp our hands before lapsing into permanent silence on the third day.

It was a slower, sadder, more protracted version of Babe’s party to end all parties. However, death offers strange gifts.

Mom was gently guided to her exit with the support of hospice nurses, loyal health care aides and her family.

Two years later, as her birthday passes again, I ask myself, “Why did I yodel?”

My obscene yodel ricocheted that afternoon, a primal howling registering beyond the yellow walls of Mom’s living room. Inasmuch as it was a spectacle, it was also a keening. Scattering the waterfowl. Causing geese to take flight.

Even as I foolishly flapped my arms, the fowl took to the bluest of cerulean skies. Up and up, whirring, blurring with sky and cloud.

Into the firmament.

Away.  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O.Henry.

The Pleasures of Life

Luvin’ Spoonfuls

Family recipes filled with sugar and spice and everything nice


By David Claude Bailey

How do I love thee, my Valentine? Let me count the ways: your paper-thin Moravian cookies melting in my mouth at Christmas; the house filling with the buttery aroma of a chocolate chess pie bubbling in the oven; the raised doughnuts that you fried for our girls — dripping a trail of white frosting; and, oh, that pineapple upsidedown cake you once cooked in a Dutch oven, which caramelized on the bottom into a lovely, sticky, golden goo.

“All you need is love,” Mr. Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz, once said, and then added, “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” Which brings to mind your double-chocolate brownies, made with butter, cocoa, chocolate chips and a triple dose of love. Licking her fork, one of my women friends once said, “I wish I had Anne for a wife.” My men friends merely stuff their faces.

I know I’m lucky, but not just to have found and married a serious eater who learned to cook in her grandmothers’ and mother’s kitchens deep in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where I ate my first pralines, crunchy bennie-seed wafers and divinity as light as a sugar-frosted cloud.

But it’s not just Anne. Call me the Don Juan of dessert divas because I have a host of other lovers, who, over the years, have let me know in no uncertain terms, “Nothing says loving like something from the oven.”

For some reason, women like watching me eat. Maybe it’s the way I lick my lips or arch my eyebrows or giggle between bites. And, if what they give me is transcendent, I have been known to stand up and do a little jig of joy.

Let’s start with my mother, about whose cooking I’ve written in these pages before ( How many mothers would cook their son a green birthday cake complete with a chartreuse lime frosting? From the savory persimmon pudding with hard sauce she made at Thanksgiving to the raised Swedish nut roll stuffed with black walnuts she always served on Christmas morning, Zella Romaine Zettle Bailey created desserts that became family legends.

Then there was my Aunt Rachel who, when I spent the night with her three sons, plied me with pungent gingerbread, always hot from the oven and slathered with lemon sauce.

I’ve never been much of a cake fan, but my friend Spencer’s mother made a pound cake that was so rich it would stick to the cake plate, leaving a sort of golden slurry subject to our dirty little fingers. (Anne loves cakes and once reproduced a 14-layer cake we first ate in Manns Harbor.)

In fact, the ’50s, when we grew up, was sort of the golden age of cake mixes. Anne’s grandmother went through a stage where she baked cakes with funny names — sock-it-to-me cake (mostly just butter, sour cream, brown sugar, cinnamon and cake flour), dump cake (pineapple, cherries and nuts swimming in yellow cake mix) and, my favorite, hummingbird cake (crushed pineapple, bananas and pecans plus black walnuts with flour and sugar). If something tasted good, Gladys seemed to think, just add it to a cake mix and, “Voila!”

Me? Just call me pie face. Some of the world’s most delicious pies have disappeared through this pie hole. Mom’s mincemeat or cherry pie. My sister-in-law Tammy’s pecan pie — better than candy. And what I call Anne’s crunch-apple pie. The recipe appears on a yellowed and batter-spattered page from a 1981 copy of Family Circle and is entitled, “The Mom’s Apple Pie to End All Mom’s Apple Pies.” Here’s the recipe with slight alterations made by my Valentine, the princess of pies.

The Mom’s Apple Pie to End All
Mom’s Apple Pies

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

6 large tart apples, pared, quartered, cored and sliced

9-inch unbaked pie shell

2 tablespoons butter


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 cup (one stick) butter

Combine sugar, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl, pressing out any lumps. Add sliced apples and toss well to mix. Fill pastry shell with mixture. Dot with 2 tablespoons of butter.

For the topping, combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. Scatter topping thickly over the apple filling, heaping it high.

Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees F) for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and cook it for 30 minutes more until it’s all bubbly and done.  OH

I need your love: Send me a one-to-two sentence description of your sweetest treat — and a recipe if you want — and we’ll see if we get enough to publish them next Valentine’s Day (

Tea Leaf Astrologer

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

Say what you will about Aquarians. That they’re headstrong. Paradoxical. Emotionally detached. But if there’s one thing to admire about this enigmatic air sign, it’s that they’re hell-bent on seeking the truth. In other words: You won’t find them drinking the Kool-Aid. This month, cut your favorite water-bearer some slack as they navigate some rather turbulent tides. Give them space. Give them time. They’re sure to come out shining.


Tea leaf “fortunes” for the rest of you:

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

At this point, suffering is a choice.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) 

Does the word “squirrel” mean anything to you?

Taurus (April 20 – May 20) 

With great risk comes, well, you’ll see.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20)

Two words: trigger warning.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22)

No need to intervene. Read that again.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

Yes, it’s shiny. Very shiny. But is it merely a distraction?

Virgo (August 23 – September 22) 

Eat the cake.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Ask again later.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

Just walk away. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

Let the candy hearts do the talking.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Put your phone on silent. It’s time for some “you time.”   OH

Zora Stellanova has been divining with tea leaves since Game of Thrones’ Starbucks cup mishap of 2019. While she’s not exactly a medium, she’s far from average. She lives in the N.C. foothills with her Sphynx cat, Lyla. 

The Creators of N.C.

Red Clay and Jewels

Jaki Shelton Green captures the beauty and cruelty of humanity


By Wiley Cash    Photographs by Mallory Cash

To read the work of North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green is to know exactly where her inspiration comes from; it comes from the red clay of Orange County, North Carolina, where a little girl leaves footprints in the dirt as she follows her grandmother down to the water’s edge, fishing pole in hand; it comes from the silence of held breath as parents hide their children beneath the pews of a darkened church while the Ku Klux Klan encircles the building; it comes from the peace and grandeur of a community-owned cemetery on a warm winter day when the past, present and future stretch out on a continuum that can be seen and felt. You can open almost any page in Jaki’s numerous collections of poetry and plant your feet firmly on that same red clay, witness the suffocating fear of racial terror, and feel the healing energy of the dead as they gather around you.

I’ve known Jaki for years, mostly as a fellow writer at various festivals across the state. I’ve also hosted her for my own literary events when I needed the kind of in-person power that only a writer like Jaki can bring. To witness her read her poetry is akin to witnessing a god touching down on Earth to opine on the beauty and brutality of humanity. But I had never visited Jaki’s home, nor had I ever joined her on her native soil in Orange County.

When my family and I pulled into the driveway of the neatly kept ranch home where Jaki lives with her husband, Abdul, she immediately opened the door to her writing room and welcomed us with a wide smile. Inside, morning light poured through the windows on the east side of the room. In the center sat a long table where Jaki’s laptop was open as if she’d just paused in her work. Books were stacked throughout the room, not as if they were being stored, but as if they were being read, the reader having taken a break here to pick up another volume there. Art adorned the space: paintings, framed jewelry, sculpture, photographs.

I smiled as my eyes took in the room.

“Jaki, this is exactly where I thought you’d live,” I said.

“You should’ve seen it when I bought it,” she said. “I think it had been condemned, but this was the house I wanted. My family begged me not to buy it.”

It was nearly impossible to believe that this place so clearly suffused with peaceful, creative energy had ever been absent of life, but perhaps that speaks to the regenerative power of Jaki’s spirit.

“Years ago, I bought this house just before Thanksgiving,” she said, “and then I got to work on it. By the holidays I was ready to host our family Christmas party.”

Jaki took a seat at her writing table while my wife, Mallory, unpacked her photography gear. I followed my daughters into the living room, where Abdul set down a small cradle full of handmade dolls for our daughters to play with. He and Jaki have a 3-year-old granddaughter, and they are used to having small children underfoot. Later, as Abdul prepared breakfast for Jaki’s 105-year-old mother, who lives with the couple, he patiently listened as my first-grader shared with him the moment-by-moment intricacies of her school day while my kindergartner crawled on the kitchen floor, answering only to the name “Princess Kitty.”

“How did you and Jaki meet?” I asked him.

He smiled. “I was working in a furniture store, and Jaki came in. It didn’t seem like anyone else was interested in helping her, so I asked her what she was looking for. She said, ‘I don’t need help, brother. I know how to look for furniture.’”

He finally got Jaki to share that she was in the market for a fainting couch, and that only made him more interested in her. “I found out she was a poet,” he said, “and I went to the bookstore and bought some of her books, and then . . . ” He smiled and shrugged as if nothing more needed to be said.

Throughout the house, framed photographs of family members lined the walls, some of them recent pictures of grandchildren, others weathered black and white portrayals of family members who have been gone for decades. Jaki’s voice drifted into the living room, and I could hear that she was talking about her daughter Imani, who passed away from cancer in 2009 at the age of 38. I never met Imani, and I only know her through Jaki’s heartrending poem “I Want to Undie You,” but as I looked at the photographs throughout the house, I wondered if I was seeing photos of Imani at the same moment her mother was evoking her name. Jaki, as if sensing my search, called to me from her writing room.

“Do you want to go out to our family’s cemetery where Imani is buried?” Jaki asked.

“Of course,” I said, sensing that we were being invited into a sacred space. “Will it be OK if I ask you some questions out there?”

“That’s probably the best place for it,” she said.

We left Abdul behind to serve breakfast to his mother-in-law, and Jaki climbed into the passenger’s seat while Mallory squeezed between the girls and their car seats in the back. Jaki turned and looked at them. “So, you girls like jewels?” They nodded, and she opened her hand and dropped gorgeous, polished rocks into theirs.

The private cemetery where Jaki’s ancestors and other community members are buried sits just a mile or so up the road. Forests bordered the cleared land on both sides, and across the gravel road a crane stacked felled trees in a lumber yard, the low rumble of its engine edging through the air.

Jaki and I sat down on a bench that had been placed by Imani’s headstone by Jaki’s two surviving children. Jaki looked at the markers around her, the names on them so familiar that she didn’t even have to read them to know who rests there.

“I will never forget standing out here when my father was being buried, and my mom looked at Sherman (Jaki’s first husband) and me and said, ‘It’s all right, because y’all are going to have a baby next year.’ And we did.”

Jaki grew up in a close-knit community called Efland less than 7 miles away, where two A.M.E. churches anchored the community. Her family members were active at Gaines Chapel A.M.E., and it was there that Jaki was first encouraged to write by her grandmother, even though she wanted to be a scientist or an oceanographer.

“I was fascinated by the stories around me,” Jaki said, “especially what was happening on Sunday morning. As a child I would sit there and make up stories about people, and my grandmother gave me little notebooks to write in. I was very nosy, but I’ve come to understand that writers should be nosy. We should be nosy about everything.”

According to Jaki, she was not only nosy about the people in her congregation, she was nosy about the world around her, constantly asking questions like, “Where does the rain really come from?” and, “What makes dark dark?” You can see the questions in her poetry. In “I Wanted to Ask the Trees,” about the trauma of lynching in Black communities, she writes:

I wanted to ask the trees. do you remember. were you there. did you shudder. did your skin cry out against the skin of my great uncle’s skin.

“I want to tell stories of the South that are being erased and forgotten while reminding people that what’s nostalgic for some Southern writers is absolutely terror for others,” Jaki said. “White people talk about hound dogs in one context, but when we think about hound dogs we think about full moons and lynchings. When people talk about coon dogs, the coon was us.”

When I asked Jaki why she left the South as a young person, she made clear how complicated her exodus was for her and her family. She was kicked out of public school in Orange County for organizing and participating in a walkout after Black students demanded equity during school desegregation. Before readmitting her, the board of education insisted that she sign an affidavit promising that she would not participate in or encourage any acts of civil disobedience. Her parents, themselves active in political and social issues, saw the board’s demand as an infringement on their daughter’s rights. She was readmitted, but being branded a troublemaker made life harder than she deserved.

After being offered an academic scholarship to a Quaker boarding school called George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Jaki headed north. For the first time in her life she was living outside the South and away from her family, surrounded by young people from all over the world, from different backgrounds and classes. “It took me leaving to really look back and see the entire landscape,” she said.

Although she’d written poetry from an early age, leaving home and encountering the work of Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni made clear to Jaki the urgency of putting herself and her people on the page. Though away from home, she understood that life continued on in rural Orange County, the cycles of birth and death and political upheaval and cultural change never ceasing.

“If we don’t tell ourselves who we are, then someone else will tell us who we are,” she said.

Jaki and her first husband returned to the South after starting a family because they wanted their three young children to know their great-grandparents, to experience their wisdom and love, to know the place that had forged the lives of their ancestors.

Sitting in the cemetery where so many of those ancestors and Jaki’s daughter have been laid to rest, Jaki is clear-eyed about the journey that saw her exiled from public school in Orange County to visiting public schools across the state as North Carolina’s first Black Poet Laureate.

“There’s nothing magical about how I’ve arrived at this place,” she said. “It’s called working hard. It’s called having determination about what you want, and really knowing who you are.”

The little girl who wanted to be an oceanographer became a writer instead, still asking questions about the world around her, still investigating it, continuing to draft poetic reports on the place she has always called home, the landscape where inspiration takes root and ideas are born, nurtured, and recorded.  OH

Wiley Cash is the Alumni Author-in-Residence at the University of North Carolina Asheville. His new novel, When Ghosts Come Home, is available wherever books are sold.

From the Editor

By Mary Best

February is named after a Roman purification ceremony. In the spirit of starting with a clean slate, stories this month embrace that theme, with tributes to love poems, artistic expression and more.

While I applaud these gallant efforts, for me, the second month of the year brings back memories that vacillate between Do the Right Thing and Fargo. Frankly, I’m not a cold weather girl. Here’s one reason why.

Years ago, a few friends convinced me to go snow skiing. Never having been skiing, I thought why not? How bad could it be?

Obviously, I didn’t think this through, given that I can’t keep my balance on a straight sidewalk on drought-laden July afternoon.

The problem was that my friends didn’t know what I didn’t know. After all, they grew up on Alpine slopes. And, in turn, I didn’t realize how much they thought I knew.

When we topped the expert slope, I was transported to what seemed suspiciously like the Ardennes in 1945. Not to mention that I had put the skis on the wrong feet, barely caught the ski chairlift thing and then was told to jump at what seemed like eight feet from the lift while it never even slowed down. Who jumps off a moving vehicle while it’s in motion?

Before Axl had blared out the first verse of “Welcome to the Jungle,” my first — and only — romp down the ice-glazed suicide path propelled me into a mountain of snow that felt like the Donner Pass.

My descent (literally and figuratively) continued as I repeatedly crashed into skiers and unforeseeable moguls. The stupid skis kept coming off, while members of the poor ski patrol tried in vain to escort me to an exit ramp. Nice folks, but the horror on their faces reminded me of the final moments of a Hitchcock movie.

On television, it all looked so easy.

I finally traversed the hill to an icy area where, with graceless, uncontrollable acceleration, I crashed into the deck in front of the lodge.

After the patrol team tended to my wounds, steadied me to my feet and located my skis, a member of the ski patrol approached and whispered: “Here’s $20, please go to bar, buy a few drinks and never come back.”

They escorted my crackling and nearly hypothermic body to the bar, where they placed me in a comfortable booth. They were merciful enough to seat me by a window overlooking the slopes. From there, I watched my friends play like children, captured by the magic of falling flakes.

Sitting there alone, having needed a respite, I cherished the warmth of each sip of a Kentucky Coffee. I’m almost certain O. Henry gave me a nod from above, as we watched and smiled.  OH   

Eye on GSO

Flight of the Gooney Bird

The N.C. Transportation Museum works to restore the Potomac Peacemaker

By Billy Ingram
In January’s O.Henry magazine, there’s a brief oral history of the glory days of Piedmont Airlines, including interviews with former flight attendants and pilots who flew for the airline back when air travel was a pleasure.
There’a an exciting project underway at the N.C. Transportation Museum, where specialists are restoring one of Piedmont’s DC-3s, the most versatile airliner ever built, with attention to every detail, right down to the fabric on the seats.
“Most of Piedmont’s DC-3s were converted pax DC-3s,” says museum spokesperson Savannah Bess, part of the Potomac Pacemaker project. “Most of them started their lives off as C-47 and C-53 variants. Our airplane, the Potomac Pacemaker, was one such plane.” After service during WWII, these planes were sold off for very little money by the Reconstruction Finance Corp. Piedmont Airlines got off the ground with a fleet of these so-called Gooney Birds, as they were affectionately known.
“Our plane, the Potomac Pacemaker, rolled off the assembly line in Santa Monica, California, in 1942,” Bess says. That plane was initially leased and then sold to Western Airlines where it served from 1945-55.
“However, Western was phasing out the old threes and replacing them with more efficient Convairs,” Bess told me. “Piedmont relied on the DC-3 religiously. It was the only airplane at the time that could not only be reliable and easy to repair for a small airline, but manage to land in the most out-of-the-way airports, sometimes nothing more than a tobacco field in Goldsboro or a strip shaved into a mountain top in West Virginia.”
Piedmont snatched up every DC-3 it could get. “When they learned Western was divesting their Gooney fleet, Piedmont decided to drop them a line,” Bess says. “Piedmont named its Pacemakers after various geographical or cultural reference points on their route system. The Potomac Pacemaker plied Piedmont’s route faithfully until the DC-3’s retirement in 1963.” The airplane was saved by Durham’s Museum of Life and Science, which gave it a cosmetic makeover. By the time the N.C. Transportation Museum purchased her in 2002, she was in poor condition. The DC-3 was taken apart and shipped to Spencer in 2004. “It was an emotional moment for some of us,” Bess notes. “I was there the day the fuselage was taken away. I’m a native and resident of Durham. I grew up literally underneath that airplane, and she fostered my love of aviation. I had no idea how involved I would be years later.
“Things really started snowballing into action until our old team leader, Capt. Bill Wilkerson, lit a fire and volunteers started to come twice a month, putting in more than eight hours a shift. That was only several years back. Not just Piedmont people started to join the project; students from Guilford Tech, aircraft mechanics and enthusiasts from different walks of life all started to pitch in. I joined the project in 2016. Our goal is to restore, as perfectly as possible, an airplane you can step into circa 1962.”  That’s right, one day you’ll be able to walk into this fully refurbished airliner.
There’s no timeline on exactly when that will be as the uncertainty of our current circumstance has had a pausing effect on museums everywhere. “What I can tell you,” Bess says, “is that the project has had some fresh attention and gotten new interest excited, thanks to our social media presence on Facebook detailing the restoration as it goes along, and our joining the DC-3 Society, formerly known as the D-Day Squadron. We have had massive success rebuilding the airframe, namely the fuselage, which was rotting from underneath. Now it’s brand new aluminum. Our engines and landing gear are complete. Furthermore, our plans for the future building include, not just Piedmont artifacts, but our plane’s military history and tribute to the American Theater, and work the DC-3 tirelessly engaged in, bringing us to victory.  From training young pilots on how to deliver troops into enemy territory, or carrying pilots who would toss peanuts and Coke to poor Southern children, our plane did it all.”