Omnivorous Reader

Omnivorous Reader

Dicey Drama in Haiti

Looking for treasure but finding trouble

By Anne Blythe

Given the political fracture in this country and the intensified drumbeat of questions about the survival of democracy, it might seem daunting to tuck into Ben Fountain’s Devil Makes Three: A Novel.

The sheer size of the North Carolina native’s latest book — 531 pages — is intimidating enough. When you throw in that it’s a deep dive into life in Haiti immediately following the 1991 military coup that sent President Jean-Bertrande Aristide into exile, you might be tempted to put this novel about abusive power, excessive greed and dictatorship back on the shelf and save it for a less divisive time.

Don’t do that. Instead, open Fountain’s work of fiction. Let the story pull you from a once blissful beachfront through streets littered with butchered corpses and the headless body of a mayor, to crumbling estates, voodoo priestesses and treasure hunts on the turquoise waters lapping against the former French slave colony fallen under the rule of an oppressive military regime. A political thriller and adventure-filled page-turner, Devil Makes Three explores a country in turmoil from different angles through four main characters in their 20s.

Matt Amaker is a rootless American college dropout drawn to Haiti with unrealized ambitions after circulating through the Caribbean as a “dive gypsy.” Alix Variel, the ambitious and beguiling son of a prominent Haitian family, persuades Matt to come with him to Haiti to start a dive shop of their own catering to a wave of the expected tourism before the coup upended the country’s dreams of democracy and prompted international trade embargoes.

Despite the upheaval, Matt and Alix have not given up all hope on ScubaRave being a successful business, and turn their attention to hunting Conquistador treasure and artifacts in the under-explored ocean waters off Haiti.

“Haiti has treasure,” Alix tells Matt while they are smoking a joint and pondering their future.

One wreck he was aware of had as many as 12 cannon among the wreckage. If they were bronze, they could attract high-end collectors, deep-pocketed people who might pay as much as one Saudi oil prince had — $600,000 for a pair of cannon.

“Why the hell are we messing with scuba,” Alix asked. “We should be hunting treasure all the time.”

“Because it’s a really stupid business, that’s why,” Matt responded. “A few people make some money and everybody else loses their shirt. It’s like Vegas, the lottery, it’s mainly just luck. You happen to dig over here instead of a quarter mile over there, that’s the difference between a fortune and wasting your life. Screw that. It’s too random for me . . . Treasure is trouble.”

That prognostication is a driving line of the novel, which also focuses on Audrey O’Donnell, a rookie CIA officer, a sharp and aspiring government agent also known as Shelly Graver, who quickly finds herself involved in ethically questionable drug deals and agency-supported operations to keep Aristide out of power.

All the while, she wrestles with the part of her job that calls for manipulating people, even as she’s romantically involved with Alix. Audrey’s belief that it is in Haiti’s best interest “to integrate into the global economy, which last time she checked, was overwhelmingly trending toward the free market American model” puts her in direct opposition to Misha, Alix’s sister and a love interest of Matt’s.

Misha returns to Haiti in the midst of researching and writing a thesis at Brown University with a working subtitle “Psychological Rupture in the Literature of the Black Atlantic.” Instead of going back to school while her homeland is in tumult, she goes to work at a public clinic where the CIA tries to mine the medical records of her patients to test their political loyalties. “The coup d’etat had unfolded as a kind of twisted affirmation of her still gestating dissertation,” Fountain writes.

In a country where the minimum wage was $5 a day in the early ’90s, Misha wrestled with “the contradiction of the lived experience” in her homeland. “Once again Haiti was instructing the world, pushing ahead of the historical curve, and it was paying the price in blood and grief,” Fountain writes. “Why take to the streets if you are already free, as you’d been told every day of your life you were. Forget your slack stomach and aching back, your weary mind. Whatever else might be said or alleged of him, Aristide gave voice to, made visible, the contradiction of the lived experience of the country.”

Despite their differences, Misha and Audrey come together to help save Matt and Alix from the throes of dangerous and misguided adventures brought about by their attempts to “float up” bronze cannon. The men find themselves being arrested by soldiers on “conspiracy to commit terrorism charges” and are thrown in prison.

Haiti’s top general, however, has a keen interest in scuba diving and treasure hunting, and springs Matt from prison on a working furlough to help find Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria before the 500th anniversary of its sinking in December 1492.

By making Haiti the focus of Devil Makes Three, Fountain is able to weave themes of power, politics, race, history, capitalism, globalism, voodoo and the legacy of plantation slavery throughout the novel using the characters’ dialogue as they down rum and tonics, smoke marijuana and feast on creole dishes.

Whether it’s Fountain’s description of Port-au-Prince as a city with “a dull orange haze hanging over everything like a fulminating cloud of Cheetos dust” or his tightly knit storylines, this Dallas-based lawyer-turned-writer, born in Chapel Hill, raised in Elizabeth City and Cary, gives the reader a lot to digest.  OH

Anne Blythe has been a reporter in North Carolina for more than three decades covering city halls, higher education, the courts, crime, hurricanes, ice storms, droughts, floods, college sports, health care and many wonderful characters who make this state such an interesting place.

Hidden Figure

Hidden Figure

How a Black washerwoman helped free 15 slaves

By Ross Howell Jr.

Photograph by Bert VanderVeen

Lavina Curry.

We don’t know where “Vina” was born or how she died. We have no likeness of her — no etching or drawing.

Yet a Guilford College historical marker honors what she did.

Professor emerita Adrienne Israel played an essential role in preserving and telling Vina’s story.

Israel retired from Guilford in 2019, after teaching history there for 37 years. One of her most popular courses was a study of the Quaker community, the local free Black population and the roles individuals played in helping slaves escape North Carolina via the Underground Railroad.

And one of those individuals was Levi Coffin, a Quaker abolitionist born on a Guilford County farm in 1798. His family moved to Indiana in 1826 to avoid persecution for their antislavery views. Historians estimate that Coffin assisted in the escapes of more than 3,000 fugitive slaves during his lifetime.

“Most of the stories about the Underground Railroad were framed around white abolitionists,” Israel says.

“But I was convinced that free Black people in the Greensboro area must’ve been involved, too,” she adds.

Evidence was hard to come by.

Then Israel found a memoir written by a cousin of Levi Coffin, published in 1897.

“There was a free negro named Arch Curry, living near our home, who died a few years after father,” wrote Addison Coffin, whose father died in 1826.

“His widow’s name was Vina; she was the washerwoman for the boarding-school for several years,” Coffin continues. He describes Vina as a “shrewd and discerning” woman who had kept “her husband’s free papers” on hand after his death.

The “boarding-school” was the New Garden Boarding School, predecessor to Guilford College. “Free papers” were documents drawn up by county courts to certify a Black man was a freeman and not a slave.

Vina allowed individual fugitive slaves to use Arch’s papers as identification.

“This was done 15 times to my knowledge,” Coffin writes. He explains that after the fugitive reached freedom, Levi would return the “stolen” papers to the widow.

“This was done occasionally with other papers,” Coffin concludes, “but none were ever used like those of Arch Curry.”

There it was.

A local free Black person helping the Underground Railroad — if Israel could prove “Arch” and “Vina” existed.

Women were rarely named in early records, so Israel started searching for Arch.

Deed books showed that in 1820 a Black freeman named Archibald Curry had purchased land on Brushy Creek in Guilford County, and, a year later, more land on Horsepen Creek. Between the 1820 and 1830 censuses, Curry’s household grew from himself, his wife and two children to seven children — four male and three female.

His name doesn’t appear in the 1840 census, so apparently Arch died about the time Coffin had noted in his memoir.

And Arch’s widow?

The 1840 census counted three female “free colored persons” at New Garden Boarding School.

Among the women was washerwoman Vina Curry, age 55.

Assisting Israel in confirming Vina’s identity was Quaker archivist and special collections librarian Gwen Erickson, who located entries in the school’s ledger for “Lavina Curry.” No entries for Lavina are found after 1843.

It was Erickson who secured funding for the historic marker, dedicated in 2022 as part of a national consortium of universities studying slavery. Erickson says the marker reminds us that there were more free Black citizens who worked with the Underground Railroad and “continue to go unnamed.”

It was up to Sarah Thuesen, associate professor of history at Guilford, to involve students with the project, working with classes to draft the text inscribed on the historical marker.

Thuesen says that while her students had some idea about the school’s role in the Underground Railroad, “they probably never would’ve heard the name of Lavina Curry if not for this effort to recognize all freedom fighters, white and Black.”

And retired professor Israel?

She’s on the trail of one of Vina’s daughters.

“Her name is Sarah,” Israel says. “She moved to Indiana with her husband, a free Black man named Richard Ladd, who had been accused of helping a fugitive slave.”

There’s pride and delight in the professor’s voice.  OH

Ross Howell Jr. is a contributing writer.

O.Henry Ending

O.Henry Ending

Backseat Smooching

The joyride home from elementary school

By David Claude Bailey

This is a story about pre-adolescent smooching, but the pre-teen boy in me wants to start with the car, a huge 1947 Pontiac Streamliner with those sweeping, flared fenders favored in gangster movies. (My father had a 1954 V-8 Pontiac Star Chief, a sleek and powerful car with an illuminated face of an Indian as a hood ornament. But Dad’s car didn’t hold a candle to the Streamliner, with its sleek, Jaguar-inspired lines and capacious interior.) This automobile was obviously the choice for those who dreamed of a luxurious and fabled life on the big screen.

Our chauffeur, Marian Orren, always perfectly coiffed, would pick up her son, Frank, plus me and our classmate, Evelyn, from elementary school every afternoon.

The Art Deco radio with golden illuminated buttons and dials would be aglow in the middle of the dashboard. From its mouth-like speaker, which looked like a howling mask from a Greek tragedy, the latest Hit Parade tunes would pour, setting the scene. “Volare.” “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” And, oh my God, the “Witch Doctor.” The back seat was big enough to host a party, but Evelyn and I would settle into the plush, cushy, tufted seats, and slide into the corner. Before we’d reached the stop sign, we were locking lips.

Who knows why and how we got started with this passionate car-noodling. I, with one eye, was bullied all day long, and the idea of someone caring about me, much less showering me with kisses, was the high point of each day. I’ll never forget Evelyn, my first sweetheart.

We were in fourth or fifth grade and our dalliance was limited, neither of us even close to the fervor of adolescence. And maybe that was a good thing.

Frank would sit in the front seat, begging his mother to make us stop. She, in fact, encouraged us, and we’d carry on until the Streamliner pulled up to the curb of 602 Boyd Street, where I reluctantly hauled the coat I’d shed and my army pack out the side door.

Evelyn came to a recent high school reunion all the way from New York City and we had an absorbing and long chat, catching up on our various trajectories.

And then I said, “What was all that smooching about?”

If Evelyn had a good answer, I didn’t hear it. Maybe I’d had one too many gin and tonics.

But magic comes to mind.  OH

David Claude Bailey still enjoys kissing in cars and can sometimes be found fogging up the windows of his 1981 Jeep CJ-7 with his wife of 56 years, Anne.

The Waddell/Whitlatch Home Revival

The Waddell/Whitlatch Home Revival

Light, love and good taste in Glencoe Village

By Cynthia Adams 

Photographs by Amy Freeman

Glencoe Mill Village in Alamance County, home to new residents Molly and Jonathan Whitlatch, is among the most intact mill villages in the country. The 95-acre community affords a rare look at something once commonplace, built along the Piedmont’s rivers and streams, when mill owners created housing to attract laborers, often employing entire families, including children.

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a Burlington historic district, the private restoration of surviving Glencoe homes, found three miles north of Burlington along the Haw River, began after 1999.

The newly restored Whitlatch home had its own story to tell.

Just two weeks before last Thanksgiving, Molly and Jonathan Whitlatch finally moved into their two-story clapboard historic home on Glencoe Street. They were both elated and exhausted. House proud, they still shucked off shoes at the door, not daring to scar newly refinished, hand-planed, wide-board floors, which already bore the marks of nearly a century and a half of use.

Almost immediately, the couple opened their home as part of Glencoe’s annual tour of homes, a fundraising effort Molly had helped initiate in 2017. The fundraiser helps support grants for restoration projects like their own.

For the homeowners, the tour was a time for celebration — a once neglected, derelict house was successfully revived. From the street, it appeared largely unchanged; in actuality, that was far from true. It had required a deft restoration that demanded much more than cosmetics. Much of the house, left unoccupied after a remodel that was begun and abandoned more than 20 years ago, was essentially a shell, lacking heat or air conditioning, plumbing, or even electricity. It required, admits Molly, “a lot.”

Tour-goers were treated to a viewing of what had been achieved. 

Molly, Jonathan and Molly’s father, George Orndorff, acted as docents, telling the story of the 1880 “Waddell” house. Among the original 45 rental houses for Glencoe mill employees, James Waddell, manager of the company store, lived there with his wife, Lou Ada Councilman Waddell, known as Lou, and their children from 1916–40. 

The nearby store he once managed houses today’s Textiles Heritage Museum. From that vantage point, museum volunteer Nancy Earl, a retiree who previously worked at a textile museum in Oregon, had a bird’s eye view to observe the Waddell home’s rehabilitation.

She admired both the restoration and the owners’ enthusiasm.

As did fellow volunteer and long-time preservationist Katherine Rowe, now an interior designer. “The couple had just barely gotten a COA (Certificate of Appropriateness) for the home, days before being featured on the home tour,” she says.

Entering from the front porch, the restored living room’s velvety chairs, colorful heirloom rugs, and vintage furnishings and artwork warm the rustic interiors. The couple doggedly worked to retain the original and rough-hewn shiplap walls and bead-board ceilings, but softened it with accenting trim and quiet touches such as luxurious textiles.

Thanks to the Whitlatches’ passion for preservation and good guidance from the governing bodies overseeing Glencoe, the home’s past wasn’t erased, but integrated. The former Waddell house bears the artful evidence of a sleight of hand that had made the historic home ready for a new era. 

Just days after moving in, the new owners celebrated their first holiday meal on Thanksgiving.

The couple dined in an enclosed space pressed into service as a dining room on a friend’s loaned table as they still searched for the perfect one to fit the space.

“A hallway filled with windows and a chunky farm table in front of them,” admires Rowe, who saw the home furnished for the open house event. Light shimmers through the porch’s five windows.

The Waddell family wouldn’t have recognized it. For Rowe, it is among her favorite spots in the house. Rowe met the Whitlatches when, as a founder of Preservation Burlington, Molly sought out help from Rowe, who volunteers for Preservation Greensboro.

“They are charming and have filled the home with light, life and a lot of good taste!” she says, praising the Whitlatches. And equally energetic.

The certificate legally allowing occupancy only arrived on Halloween.

How did the Whitlatch couple wind up restoring the 1880s home?

In part, because they had friends who lived there and the opportunity arose. In July of 2022, they were vacationing when they learned that a Glencoe house they had long watched had caught the interest of a flipper. 

They couldn’t allow that to happen.

Plus, they had begun contemplating leaving their home in Burlington for a rural property. Glencoe offered some of what they were seeking — the lots had ample room for a garden.

“We were living in the historic district in Burlington, explains Molly. We really wanted chickens, and the City of Burlington decided not to allow chickens downtown. So, we decided we wanted to buy some property.”

But they had friends in Glencoe and already loved the location. “One of my best friends lives right across the street.” Long before buying it, Molly had often come over and peeked through the windows while visiting her friend. 

The incomplete and debris-filled Waddell house wasn’t quite what they had envisioned. It was only a few miles from Burlington’s city limits, but the village rose above the banks of the meandering Haw River and was just down the street from a county park.

It wasn’t even an architectural gem, but it could be made remarkable, they decided. The history buff in Molly was taken with the idea of taking on such a project. “We had to make a snap decision.”

Up the hill live two more friends, Tom and Lynn Cowan, preservation experts. 

“He’s a carpenter, and she is a designer,” Molly explains. “They said, ‘If you do it, we’ll help you.’ I was in transition with a job. It was one of those things, where . . .” she pauses. “We made a somewhat impulsive decision.” 

Did they want chickens that badly? 

“We really wanted chickens, but, we really wanted to save the house,” Molly answers with a wry laugh. “Kind of like Preservation Burlington, we didn’t know what we didn’t know.” (As cofounder, Molly points out how that leap of faith also had a happy outcome.)

So, we walked through it and said, ‘We’ll buy it.’” 

Their decision was quickly made; however, the hard work of making the shell of a house into a home would consume another 14 long months.

They tackled trash removal and plotted a renovation that began in earnest in August 2022.   

The renovation demanded nights and weekends of manual labor — cleaning, scraping, patching and painting while working their day jobs. 

“My dad and stepmother, Becki Orndorff, helped us work on the house many weekends as well,” says Molly.

The transformation was furthered by good friends, neighbors and advisors from the preservation community; it had literally taken a village to complete.

Preservation requirements dictated that the home’s original architectural features — all walls, wood, doors, floors, mantles, detailing and ceilings — ought to be preserved wherever possible.

Well-versed in the restrictions and requirements, she knew the ropes and how to navigate legal covenants and restrictions dictating a historic district.

“We actually did it as an N.C. preservation tax credit project,” explains Molly. While softening the financial impact of a full-on restoration project, it meant adhering to strict guidelines. 

“My husband’s very handy and had done a little bit of work on our previous house, but nothing like this.”

Molly jokes, “I’m a lawyer, so I don’t have any skills.” YouTube tutorials helped. “Jonathan’s now a self-taught handyman,” she adds with pride.

The DIYers had to hire professionals, given that there was “no plumbing, electricity, nor heating or air conditioning. “It was just a shell,” she says, noting that there had once been some primitive electricity. (Many Glencoe homes were built in an era before it was common.)

While brewing a cup of tea on a spanking-new professional range, she points out where that primitive electricity existed. The kitchen, by definition, is always a huge budgetary item, especially when there is scant wiring. What existed was installed at the dawn of electrification. 

You can see two small holes in the kitchen wall, where knob and tube wiring came into the house to a light bulb. The mill would turn the electricity on in the morning and off at 9 p.m.

The kitchen design was influenced by British country style. “I draw inspiration from English magazines.” Custom cabinets of Shaker style design were built by Alcorn, a Reidsville company that had built a friend’s cabinetry. (“A father-and-daughter business.” The cabinets are maximum height for extra storage. “We ran them to the ceiling.”) 

“The room we’re using as the kitchen was originally added to most of the houses around 1900,” explains Molly, standing at a center island featuring white, honed Danby marble from Vermont. “The original portion [of the house] dates to 1880, when the mill was built.”

Molly, who “cooks from scratch,” required a functional kitchen. A porcelain farm sink is another nod to European style.

A shallow pewter cabinet hugs the kitchen wall, found at a Mebane auction. “It’s one of the only things we bought for the house.” She filled it with vintage blue Mason jars that store pantry basics.

The kitchen ceiling height is 10–11 feet, Molly approximates. 

“Every room is a little different. Even where there are dropped ceilings, it is still higher than usual,” she says. 

She appreciates the sense of space the soaring heights lend the smaller rooms. Village homes were modestly sized with two rooms upstairs and two rooms down.

Helped by their friends, the couple undertook much of the carpentry work, salvaging wood to patch gaps and resolve rot. They innovated, appropriating beaded board, where it would be concealed behind the new kitchen cabinets, for use elsewhere. 

They retained as much of the original finishes and architecture as possible, right down to teal blue initially covering most interior surfaces. However, they toned it down, integrating it with contrasting color or neutrals, adding in rough-luxe touches to soften the primitive authenticity. Now, it is an accent, given in the original rooms all surfaces were wood.

State and local preservationists were helpful in maintaining the home’s original character. “Everything they asked us to do I was later grateful for; it ended up being better than I would have done,” acknowledges Molly.

Even what was originally an exterior window was retained in the kitchen. It opens into an enclosed entrance/mudroom. Rather than being an oddity, it elevates the kitchen’s charm quotient.

An outside building, married to the rear of the house by the previous owner, expanded the downstairs footprint. But it had long languished, abandoned. “It was open framing when we came here,” says Molly.

This became a main bedroom and bath suite, complete with porch (that will eventually be screened), opening to the rear of the property.

“Anywhere there’s drywall, it’s where the previous owner had worked on the new construction/addition,” Molly explains. “There’s a small mudroom. And he attached the detached summer kitchen to the house.” Those alterations (pre-historic designation) proved invaluable, even if unfinished. For example, the addition created what most Glencoe homes lack, storage and some closets.

But when they first saw the expansion, it was joltingly Barbiecore. 

“It was bright pink,” Molly frowns. Hardly historic.

They added door frames and doors, using a bedroom door found under the house. Over the doorway leading into the main suite are original “rafter tails,” or rafter ends that overhang the eaves.

Overhead, the exposed beams from the former kitchen wore accumulated layers of grime and soot. “Three or four of us spent six hours one day scrubbing them,” Molly groans.   

The room’s original fireplace was restored, featuring a salvaged mantle bearing original paint from another Glencoe home. Nothing was wasted.

With the help of friends, they painstakingly pulled up the wooden flooring where the prior owner had married the addition to the house, revealing beautiful wide boards beneath. Both subfloor and floor boards were carefully removed, cleaned and refinished for reuse. As Molly explains, “Free flooring!”

Variations of flooring, walls and ceilings added patina and interest, thanks to an artful interior redesign.

Inside a downstairs ensuite bathroom is a favorite compromise occurring when they created a bath for their main bedroom.

“They didn’t want us to cut into the (detached kitchen) wall, which was original,” she says, “so I asked, what if we didn’t remove it, but cut into it and created a door?” Now a jib door is among their favorite features.

Facing their main bedroom doorway, a stretch of hallway extends to the front of the house, offering a long sight line.

“It reminds me of the shotgun homes of New Orleans,” Molly says. “I like how this rambles.” With the physical work resolved, they could turn to gilding the lily: finding that perfect table, for example, and other furnishings and treasures.

The living room, which opens to the front porch, is also a favorite of their friend, Rowe, who describes the Whitlatch living room as an artful fusion of styles and collected artwork.

Art by Jonathan’s grandmother hangs opposite a piece by the front door painted by Molly’s grandmother.

Upstairs, a steep stairway to the second floor has a railing created from old wine barrels. “A nod to my husband’s work,” says Molly. The vintage light fixture in the stairwell was another fortunate salvage find. 

On the second floor, they’ve created a comfortable room with a daybed and another full bath, which was stacked over the downstairs guest bath when they were creating needed bathrooms. Hewing closely to simple fixtures and trim, they used a vintage sink and tub, both architectural salvages. The tub was too massive to get upstairs via the narrow stairway, forcing them to remove an upstairs window to hoist it from outside. “That was exciting,” says Molly. 

She used linen towels with a café rod and rings for the bathroom’s window treatment.

The upstairs features a third bedroom and the home’s third fireplace. Again, moving in furniture to the second floor was not simple.

They used bungee ratchet straps to bend the mattress, folding it in half, in order to navigate the stairs. A double bed was the largest they could manage.

Molly’s desk and office share the guest room space. 

The wide-plank upstairs floors are in fine condition, like the ones in their main bedroom downstairs. 

“And these wood walls,” says Molly. “Someone hand scraped these walls.” She runs her hand appreciatively over the wall, pausing a moment. 

“I think this is a cool feature,” she says, pointing to a craftsman’s mark on the bedroom’s handmade door, “when he took a knife and marked where to put the nails.” 

Her favorite thing, however, isn’t merely about the aesthetics of historic architecture. It is “old school” hospitality and neighborliness. It’s the village.

Throughout the renovation, neighbors commiserated over the trials and tribulations, pitched in and arrived bearing freshly baked pies and casseroles. Even the kayak business behind their home, grandfathered into Glencoe’s commercial district, was helpful. They allowed the Whitlatches to use their restroom whenever they were working on the house. 

Thus far, Molly would change nothing. True, it was a long process, she admits, and they underestimated how long it would take, plus how hard to find contractors willing to work on old houses.

“I just have a feeling about houses, not even necessarily tied to a specific thing,” says the contented owner of a renewed old house. 

“It feels cozy.”

As one who lives in a century-old home, I pose a final question: Has Molly ever sensed the Waddell’s presence there?

Molly immediately texts in answer. Neighbors had reported seeing a lady in the upstairs window when the house was still sitting vacant. 

“Anytime we heard weird noises or things were not going as planned, we would say it was the lady in the red dress.”

She forwards a grainy, silent video of the Waddell family circa 1940 “standing in front of our house.” 

“You can see a lady in a red dress,” she writes, “so that could be her.”  OH

 


 

About Glencoe Mills and the Village

According to the historic inventory when Glencoe village was acquired for preservation in 1979, the homes were “typical of North Carolina rural housing of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Glencoe Mills, which closed in 1954, was founded in the late 1880s by James H. and William Holt, sons of Edwin M. Holt. Edwin was a textile “pioneer,” developing Alamance County’s textile industry. 

Holt family descendants still live in the Triad.

Glencoe comprised a 95-acre village, with a main mill complex, church, school, Sunday school building and barbershop, general store, post office, men’s lodge, hydroelectric plant, plus 45 rental properties reserved for mill workers. The mill, dam and some of the defunct power system still remain, along with 29 houses on Glencoe Street and Hodges Road. 

At the mill’s closing in 1954, some former workers continued to rent homes there. Eventually, the homes were left abandoned. In 1979, Glencoe was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Preservation North Carolina acquired the property in the late 1990s, giving rise to private ownership and restoration.

The Textile Heritage Museum occupies the former Glencoe Mill offices and company store. Today, it contains historic information about Glencoe Mills and the socioeconomics of textiles, lending a clear picture of mill life in the 19th and 20th centuries.

In 1890, Glencoe employed 133 workers in the manufacturing of plaid fabric. The mill recruited labor by creating housing (rent was anywhere from $1.40–2.00 a month) and extending employment to entire families. Demographically, women and children comprised 70 percent of its workforce. 

According to online N.C. educational archives, “as soon as the cotton mill industry began booming in the 1880s, critics began speaking out against child labor.” Circa 1907–08, 90 percent of all spinners working in Southern textile mills were below age 21. By 1924, two children remained as Glencoe employees.

Social reform photographer Lewis Hine photographed children working in cotton mills throughout the South, then publishing and showing his work, raising awareness about the issue.

In 1933, North Carolina enacted a law prohibiting child labor, as new technologies had already begun lessening the need for large numbers of workers.

Glencoe, however, had the distinction of being the first mill in North Carolina stipulating that its child laborers receive some schooling.

The village offered “three basic house configurations.”

Most featured “brick pier foundations, tin roofs and simple, functional design. Few houses, with the exception of the mill superintendent’s house, have indoor plumbing. Some houses, particularly on Hodges Road, may never have had electricity.”   

Houses ranged from three to six rooms, averaging 16 by 16 feet. Most of the rental homes were four-room, two stories with a front porch.   

Because they were a fire hazard, detached kitchens, 12 by 12 feet in size, constructed of board and batten, were built at the rear. “Later, kitchens were attached at the back of the north end of the main block, forming an ell.” By 1910, attached kitchens had replaced most of the detached ones.    

Others were one-story, with two rooms and a front porch. A few were duplexes. The third Glencoe design was a one-and-a-half story with a side gable house and a central chimney.   

By the late 1970s when the architectural survey was completed, Glencoe’s surviving homes were deteriorating — a few beyond saving. Rotting sills, missing porches and water damage were common. Yet preservationists felt certain: The majority of homes could be restored.

 


 

About the Salvage Shop at Glencoe Village

In one neatly contained package, you can not only visit the textile museum for a closer look at work life in the late 1800s, but also buy a piece of Glencoe history. 

Housed in a World War II-era Quonset hut, the Salvage Shop contains architectural salvage and is managed by Preservation Burlington. 

Once used for mill storage, most likely cotton, the hut contains tidily organized salvage artifacts. “It’s all volunteer staffed,” says Molly. “We open to the public one Saturday a month.” Proceeds fund various grants and projects in the Glencoe historic district. 

It began in October 2016, when Molly and three other women met for coffee, agreeing they needed a nonprofit similar to Preservation Greensboro. They also looked to Greensboro to style Preservation Burlington’s eventual architectural salvage program.

“Three [of the women] are still on the board,” she explains. 

“We started our first fundraiser in 2017, a Christmas tour of homes.  People were still full of concern about the costs of historic homes.” The tour of homes became their largest revenue source, but was halted by the pandemic in 2020. 

They pivoted towards the salvage operation, which had also begun in 2017. “We’ve been successful because we didn’t know we couldn’t do it.” 

Molly heads the salvage work portion, “even though I have no construction experience. I organize electricians and carpenters.”

She met Greensboro preservationist Katherine Rowe, who occasionally volunteers, through Martha Canipe (a board member of Preservation Forsyth). “Old house people getting together,” explains Molly.

Love Bytes

Love Bytes

Illustrations by Harry Blair

Last fall, a few of O.Henry’s writers, armed with notebooks and recording devices, hit up Greensboro’s
Corner Farmers Market to gather local tales of love. The results will
melt your winter heart.

Jordan and I met in college. One of our friends was working at a haunted trail in Gibsonville and she hired us as actors. I was a zombie and he was a scarecrow. I was walking down the trail trying to get to my spot and he popped out of the bushes and scared me. It was love at first Boo.  Abigail Hart

 


 

While a graduate student in Princeton, I was studying in the library of a house I had rented with a few friends. One of my roommates came back with this woman he had met. We all sat around, got stoned, of course, and had fun together. I was really attracted to her and she to me, but she had met Evan. Well, as fate decided, he was leaving the next day for a four-week camping trip out West — so I made my moves, and Jane and I were together for 44 years until she died.  Ken Caneva


 

I was working at a wine store here in Greensboro called Wine Warehouse. I would do wine tastings on Fridays and Saturdays. Brownlee would come into the store and I didn’t notice her for, I don’t know, she says at least a year. But one Saturday afternoon, I’m in the store by myself and she comes in, and I notice her, still in her yard-working clothes. She came in to buy a bottle of wine or two for a birthday party. She leaves with a case of wine. After I close up the shop, I go by a friend’s house and he says, “I have a birthday party to go to. Why don’t you come with me?” We go through the front door and down into the basement where the party is and I round the corner, look across the room and there she is. One of the first things we both said was “Did you notice me noticing you?” And we both said yes! After that, it was just the two of us talking throughout the evening. Lo and behold, we’ve been together 17 years.  Jimmy King

 


 

Her version: We met in college. I was 20 years old. Denis was 22. I took an extra credit class in college, and Denis had to take it because he was an international student. He walked into the class and I thought, That guy looks so crabby — I hope he’s not in my group. He ended up in my group. He was from France. I invited him to my 21st birthday party and he actually came and he’s been in love with me ever since. He’s obsessed with me.

 


 

His version: It’s about the same except — no, it’s the same. Maybe not as enthusiastic.  Susel & Denis Dépinoy

My real dad died when I was 10. My mother, Janey, met Lanny when I was 18, 37 years ago. Somebody sent him over because she needed something fixed at her house. She was a big church lady and the first place he invited her? Church. They started dating, got married. Mom and Lanny were very sweet to each other. They would make everybody uncomfortable when they were in their 60s at Thanksgiving because my mother would announce that they were going to die making love. Lanny got dementia this past February and it went downhill really, really quickly. She tried to take care of him at home and could not. Now, every morning, she pulls up his picture on her phone and kisses it. But when she goes over to see him he still recognizes her. The longterm is that, at 85, one person is going to take care of the other and the end is going to be taken care of in a very loving, romantic way. That’s what true love is.  Michael Moore


 

Can I share a patients story? I was treating this lady and she and her husband have been married for over 30 years. They met in the ’90s, right, when they had those brick cell phones. They were both on a flight to Michigan State University and it got cancelled. She was sitting underneath an airport payphone and he went to go use the payphone and was really pissed off that she was right under it using her big brick cell phone. While they were fighting they realized they were headed to the same place. His work paid for him to have a rental car so they road-tripped together as strangers to Michigan State University. When she got there, she couldnt find her group so she had nowhere to stay. He offered his hotel room. There was no funny business, she assured me. They flew back together on the same flight and when they got back, he proposed to her with a ring pop from a gumball machine. And for one of their anniversaries, he got her a mini gumball machine.  Dr. Kaitlin Herzog

We worked together and I had to have surgery. I was out for a little while and Kristin came over to my house with my paycheck and a couple other things I needed for work, oh, and a giant fruit basket that the guys in my group got for me. My mom was there. Kristin came in and stayed for dinner with us. The night was on and Kristin said, “Well, I better get back over the hill.” I said, “See you when I get back.” And as soon as she walked out the door, my mom said, “She really likes you. I think you two are going to get married.” And she was right. We’re coming up on 12 years.  Andy Zeiner

 


 

We were not looking for a dog. It had been about three years since we’d had one. Someone left her at an apartment without food or water. We were out shopping one day and her rescue foster was there with Daisy Mae following her. We just fell in love with her and asked for a sleepover. It’s been about a month. She’s all things daisy — just the light of our life and our little love story.  Kim Hilton


 

I was 12 years old and had a horrible horseback-riding accident. My mother took me up to Massachusetts for a couple days to get away after I’d been in the hospital for a week. We went up to this resort and there were all these horses outside. I was not allowed around horses for at least six months because of the accident. I started asking around, who owned the horses, and was told the resort owner’s daughter rode. I went knocking and met her. The next morning, there was this big knock on the door of our hotel room, which opened to the outside. There was Betsy on her horse, Cinnamon. She said, “You wanna go for a ride?” She literally grabbed me, swung me up onto her horse behind her, and, like in a movie, we went galloping off into the sunset together. I am 65 years old now and we are still the best of friends. That’s my love story.       Lisa Pritchard

Anthony and I got married in 2004 and are getting ready to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We went to college together in Raleigh and dated from my freshman year. My senior year I decided I was going to live in Australia and travel for eight months to a year. I wanted to be free. So I broke up with him and I said to my dad, “What if I get there and I realize I still love him and he moves on?” And my dad said, “Well, if he moves on then hes not the right person for you and it wasnt meant to be.” So that gave me the permission. I went and I dated someone else down there — my mom thought I was never going to come home. She sent me a very long and detailed letter about how she felt like I was throwing away somebody that was very important to me. That made me very angry. How dare she think she knows me so well — ha! I actually broke up with the other guy, went to meet my friends from here in Tahiti and we all decided we were done traveling and homesick. We all called our families and said, “Its been eight months and were ready to come home.” I called Anthony and said, “Will you pick me up from the airport?” He picked me up and weve been together ever since.  Thea DeLoreto


 

I met my husband at A&T University in summer school. It was a humanities class and I was a student at Bennett College. A group of us were over at A&T taking a class because we’d heard it was an easy “A.” So this guy comes in, good-looking guy, and I saw his eyes. They were green. I said, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen a Black guy with green eyes.” And I’m like, “He’s special.” 

As a group of us were talking about a class we had to take, science with a lab, he overheard our conversation and offered us his lab book. They said, “You go,” meaning me because I didn’t have a boyfriend. So I did. And from there we started talking and dated for 11 years. Too long for me . . . but we married and he was true to his word about what he wanted out of a relationship. His name is Bobby and he’s a good guy still.  Page Motley Mims 

 


 

I love the Greensboro History Museum. It used to be the library when I was a little girl. And I used to love for my Mama to take me there. — Melinda Crawford

My love story is about me and a little rescue filly. Her mother was a very famous endurance racer. She and her baby had gone to auction with the fancy horses, but they put the baby in the kill pen. The Homestretch Thoroughbred Rescue, which rescues ex-racehorses, saw this little baby and they pulled her. She wasnt a wild horse, but she was feral. So I spent eight hours a day just standing in her stall, letting her get near me. She didnt trust people so she would rear, which is very dangerous. So we had two things to train her with from the beginning: one, boundaries. And two, trust. Eventually we added other skills. I was thinking, What am I going to name this little Arabian horse? And my girlfriend, who is a musician, suggested Scheherazade after the Tales of 1,001 Nights princess. Scheherazade was called to the evil prince, who would stay with the women for one night, then kill them. But she told him a story and he spared her life and asked her to come back to finish the story. So Scheherazade is the Arabian princess whose life was spared because she had so many stories left to tell, just like my little horse.  — Megan Blake


 

Deltas Sky magazine wanted to do an issue celebrating their 75th anniversary of air travel and they wanted people to write in about their stories. I did and they ended up printing the story in that edition. The short version is that we met on an airplane. Actually twice. The first time he didnt call me. But we sort of reconnected and then the second time, he did call me. Weve been together ever since, 22 years.  Kim Littrell

We met at a party dancing — a year before we ever started dating. I was 28 and I thought she was 18, way too young for me. And then I realized that were only 11 months apart. We began dating and were long distance for a year before she moved here to North Carolina. She was leaving a career in the legal field to follow her dream to be an interior designer and I was leaving a career in accounting to follow my dream to be a potter. We moved to Durham together having no idea what we were going to do or how we were going to make money. A decade later, weve really established ourselves and fallen in love with our family — theres a little one right here!   Chris Pence

 


 

So I rescued my little sweet baby Papillon from a crackhead who was selling her on the street for a dollar. Shes the sweetest dog in the whole wide world. Precious little angel. She really saved me. Shes so patient, loyal. She has little butterfly ears but her names Bat Baby — she looks like a little bat.  —  Kim McHone

 


 

I’ve been married 46 years, I think. Id have to do the math. Still married to my high school sweetheart. We met doing a local theater production in Stuart, Florida, where we grew up. I was playing the Conjure Man in Dark of the Moon. She was an usher and she came and sprayed the back of my hair silver for me. Now its silver all the time, but at the time it had to be silver for the show. And weve been together ever since. — John Vettel


 

Were staying in a rental while our house is being worked on and theres a really adorable groundhog that lives in the backyard.
I just love watching him — he is totally chill.
We
re kind of sharing this space, but I just enjoy him doing his thing. I’m not trying to make it out that hes something like a pet. If I tried to pet him, he would bite me. Thats something that people forget about because theyre so cute. It’s kind of an interesting love story in that I love him and he definitely does not love me. Ashley Duez


Ive been married to my husband, Roch, for 61 years. We met as teenagers on Hollywood Beach, Florida, and he went his way and I went my way. What attracted us? We were in our bathing suits on the beach in Florida! We got engaged in 1960, got married and had three sons. We knew the importance of education so Roch went back to school to get his Ph.D. at Emory, where we lived in student housing with our three sons. Then we came back here after our children graduated from college and I got my B.A. and M.A. at UNCG. So weve been residents here in Greensboro for 53 years, connected to UNCG. — Elaine Smith

 


 

You know how you think you know someone and then you meet them all over again and you fall in love all over again? It was my son. Yes, I gave birth to him, I loved him all his life. And then I met him anew as an adult and fell in love again. — Sandy Reiser

A long time ago — because we’ve now been married for 53 years — I had my eye on this guy in my graduate program.

My roommate and I were disgusted with having to spend the whole summer in Chapel Hill taking courses, and we decided things would be better if we fell in love . . . So we each picked out a target and went to work. It was like a competition between the two of us. It meant that I had to spend the whole summer going to the university library because this guy was quite dedicated to his studies, and so I was throwing myself in front of him so he would notice me and decide I was wonderful and he wanted to marry me.

It worked, ultimately, but along the way I had to say to my roommate, “I’m out of the game. This is it; this is serious. This is the one I want.”  
Virginia Haskett


 

So we first saw each other at Panda Express and then we ran into each other at Breakers. We met at the bar. Brittany happened to lose her cell phone. I found it, returned it to her, and then we went on our first date. We’ve been married six years. — Felipe Tejeda

 


 

I went to Grimsley High School and a guy had been calling me all summer to go out . . . This was in the day when your parents had a phone line and you had a children’s line. He always called the children’s line about the same time of day and I would say, “Mom, please answer it; I don’t want to go out with this guy.” And so finally, she answered it and said, “Yes, she’s right here.” And I was like, “Mom!” 

He said, “We’re going to see the movie Purple Rain and we’re going on a double date with my friend, Ronnie Majors, and the girl he’s dating.” 

And I said, “OK, that’ll be great.” So, we got to the Janus Theater, and we sat [together] — my date, me, Ronnie, and his date. And Ronnie, who’s my husband now, we sat beside each other and talked the whole time. 

So fast forward to the next day. 

I used to work at Carolina Circle Mall at the Peanut Shack out by the ice-skating rink, and he came out to see me. And we get home and walk into the back door — also, we had known Ronnie’s mom for years, because she worked at our orthodontist — and I said to Mom, “Look who I picked up at the mall!”

A couple of years later, my husband said, “I felt like the biggest mall loser when you said you picked me up at the mall!” We started dating, and the rest is history!

It will be 30 years in June. —  Jenny Majors  OH

Well, 40 is a good year! When I was turning 40, my friends threw me a birthday party. The party took place in Atlanta. And, unbeknownst to me, a mutual friend who had moved to Charlotte came and talked a friend of his into coming with him. Long story short, when my now husband walked into the party, he saw my picture. And he told me later that he knew. So, we met at my 40th birthday party and, a year and a half later, we were married. And neither of us had ever been married before! No kids. But God is good. And our marriage is great . . . 26 years now. — Barbara Banks

Keepers of the Heart

Keepers of the Heart

The N.C. Zoo makes strides for the Great Ape Heart Project

By Cassie Bustamante

Photographs by Bert VanderVeen

Eeew, no,” said Stephanie Tien, N.C. Zoo gorilla keeper, a decade ago when she was first offered an intern position working with gorillas and orangutans at the Columbus Zoo. But she ended up falling in love with the job, she says, as she slowly came to realize “how much I loved gorillas.”

Similarly, Tori Hanlin, chimp keeper at the N.C. Zoo, wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about working with primates. However, she reflects, “You go wherever you can get your first job and my first job was with chimps.” In 2017, two weeks after starting that first full-time gig, great ape caregiver at Florida’s Center for Great Apes, she also fell in love. Now, she says, “I can never go back from chimps.”

With passion for the primates that they train, these two keepers pour their whole hearts into their work with these two species, both endangered. But they are so much more than caretakers. They are participating in a project that promises to not just help their charges, but other primates. With a similar goal, they are painstakingly trying to train the gorillas and chimps to voluntarily tolerate the collection of cardiac information so they won’t have to be anesthetized, a risky procedure. The information they gather is shared with the Great Ape Heart Project, a Detroit Zoo-based organization that seeks to “investigate and understand cardiovascular disease in great apes.” Currently, over 80 zoos across the nation are contributing data. As it turns out, a major killer of great apes when in human care? Heart disease. Not so different from us humans. After all, we share over 98 percent of our DNA with both gorillas and chimpanzees.

For both Tien and Hanlin, participating in the Great Ape Heart Project is about more than just training apes and gathering data. It’s personal — it’s about providing the animals they love — and the entire great ape species — with longer, healthier lives.

One of the very first gorillas Tien interacted with during her Columbus Zoo internship was a feisty male named Macombo. “That gorilla put me through the wringer,” she says, recalling how she wept the entire car ride back to Ohio State University’s campus after her first day on the job.

And yet, five years later when she was offered the job at the N.C. Zoo, she jumped at the chance to work with none other than his twin bother, Mosuba. Why? Turns out the behavior that had frightened her, such as banging loudly on the mesh to make Tien jump, was a game to him. And she learned to enjoy their playful banter. After just a few weeks with Macombo — or Mac, as she calls him — he’d won her heart.

And halfway across the country, his twin brother has done exactly the same. “There he is — that’s the star of the show,” says Tien, her chestnut hair pulled back into a low bun. Through the mesh of the enclosure, he follows his keeper with his brown-black eyes, deeply set into his serene face — a face that might be familiar if you’ve streamed Secrets of the Zoo: North Carolina on Disney+. For Tien, he’s certainly the star of Forest Glade, the western lowland gorilla habitat. “He’s my favorite gorilla on the planet. I will credit him for all of my success.”

At 40 years old, Mosuba is what’s considered to be geriatric. While gorillas in human care can live into their 40s, some show signs of heart disease as early as in their 20s and 30s. Even in his old age, Mosuba appears to be in good health, something Tien attributes to the “heart-healthy diet” of leafy greens, carrots and celery that the zoo’s director of conservation, education and science, Rich Bergl, co-developed to mimic the eating habits of gorillas in the wild.

As the silverback and leader of the pack, Mosuba has been the focus of Tien’s training for voluntary data collection since she started working there, though all five of the zoo’s gorillas participate in data collection in some way or another, sometimes through anesthesia. However, because anesthesia can be stressful for both the gorillas as well as their keepers and vets, the zoo’s goal is to reach a point where all five gorillas voluntarily participate in EKGs, blood draws and and blood pressure readings.

Beginning with Mosuba made sense. “We train everything with him first because he’s a gentle giant,” says Tien. “I mean, when we’re using equipment, we’re talking thousands of dollars of equipment.”

By the time he arrived in North Carolina in 2015, Mosuba was able to perform a seated cardiac ultrasound, thanks to the trainers at his previous zoo in Omaha. Tien wanted to take this further and train him to lie down for an ultrasound because “the heart rotates into a better position and you can get a better view of different valves and chambers.”

“That was the first behavior I trained with Mosuba,” says Tien. “He picked it up right away.” The ease of that experience opened doors to new training opportunities. Since then, Mosuba has learned how to use KardiaMobile, a device he sets his fingers in while it connects to a phone via bluetooth and performs an EKG. He also tolerates his blood being drawn, something many gorillas balk at. “There are roughly 350–360 gorillas in human care across the United States,” Tien says. Her face beams with pride as she continues: “There are 10 that can do a voluntary blood draw and Mosuba is one of them.”

What motivates Mosuba to complete these tasks? “He loves grapes, kiwis, orange slices, pineapple chunks,” says Tien. But apart from food, he thrives on human interaction, which works well for Tien, who says, “I am loud and boisterous!” However, she admits, each gorilla is different and responds to different cues and enticements. Fourteen-year-old Hadari is aggravated by the very behavior that inspires Mosuba. “It’s better for someone else to take the training lead on Hadari because I am not great at being quiet and calm.”

And while working reinforcements might vary between gorillas, they can also vary between trained behaviors for the same gorilla. “What is strong enough to do a blood draw for Mosuba has proven not to be strong enough for blood pressure,” the voluntary behavior they’re currently working toward, according to Tien.

As of now, Mosuba can perform a finger blood pressure reading, but, Tien admits, “We don’t know how accurate that is.” Slowly, she’s been working her way up to using an arm cuff. How do you put an arm cuff on a 350-pound gorilla? Obviously, the answer is slowly and very carefully. However, there’s a device created specifically for the purpose, the Gorilla Tough Cuff. Inside of a mesh sleeve — picture an arm-sized metal enclosure similar to a pet crate — the Gorilla Tough Cuff houses a standard fabric inflatable cuff, just like the one your doctor uses at your annual checkup. However, Mosuba doesn’t seem to like the squeeze as it begins to fill with air and pulls his arm back.

In fact, during a training session, Mosuba retracted his arm from the Tough Cuff, accidentally bringing the blood pressure cuff with him. “A typical gorilla would probably start ripping it apart and investigating it. He just took it off his arm, shoved it back in the sleeve like ‘I know this isn’t mine — this is yours,’” says Tien.

While it hasn’t yet happened, Tien continues to work toward a cuff reading with Mosuba, but training is never forced. If he gets up and walks away, his choice is respected. “Every training session for them and for us is a learning experience.”

For now, Tien and her team will keep putting one foot in front of the other, with an end goal of having all of the zoo’s gorillas participating in voluntary data collection to submit to the Great Ape Heart Project. And from there, the hope is that heart disease in gorillas will be easier to detect and treat, allowing them to live longer, healthier lives in human care. After all, Tien says ruefully as she considers the inevitable passing of Macombo and Mosuba one day, “They will leave big shoes to fill.” At that time, their hearts will be sent to the Great Ape Heart Project for continued research. But, of course, they will also leave gorilla-sized holes in Tien’s own heart.

Outside from a deck that looks down on the chimp enclosure, Tori Hanlin points out and names the many chimps in her care — a feat that would not be so easy to anyone else. “Hi, gorgeous!” she says, greeting Gigi and her 8-month-old son, Gombe. John, the leader, though at 25 not the eldest, spots Hanlin as she passes by and opens his mouth wide, ready for food — which she does not offer at this moment. “They have no shame whatsoever,” she quips. Here among the chimps at the N.C. Zoo, Hanlin is right at home.

“I just want to be like Jane Goodall and hang out with chimps all day and make some groundbreaking research and discoveries to help save the species,” says Hanlin. In fact, there’s a Goodall quote that serves as inspiration for her work: “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help shall all be saved.”

Since coming to the N.C. Zoo in September 2019, Hanlin works with two groups of chimps, totaling 17, many of which have been saved from labs or were previously pets. One adult male, Kendall, was rescued from the entertainment industry. While Hanlin’s training is separate from that of the gorillas, she and Tien often collaborate to support each other’s work.

“In humans, it’s very studied — the normal blood pressure range, the normal arterial pressure range, the normal heart rate range, resting and working out,” says Hanlin. Her hope is that the Great Ape Heart Project’s data will eventually be able to provide normal ranges for animals in human care.

And, Hanlin notes, while information can be collected when chimps are anesthetized, it’s not nearly the same as gathering it voluntarily as the heart can react differently under its influence. “We want to get these animals to participate in their own welfare. We want it to be a positive experience for them. We want to make it fun and interactive.” And, she muses, “How many people can say, ‘I’ve trained a voluntary blood pressure on a chimp?’”

While she knows heart disease is not 100 percent preventable, she has her own heart set on doing what she can with the technology the N.C. Zoo provides, including the $2,000 blood pressure device she helped it acquire through a Friends of the Zoo grant.

Currently, blood pressure training is Hanlin’s primary focus, with an end goal of having all 17 chimps trained to do it voluntarily. Right now, most of the seven males can successfully complete the task and a few females are not far behind. Why more males? It all boils down to the species’ complicated social hierarchy. “The boys will displace the females to train.” In other words, males dominate females, as they do in so many other activities.

In fact, John is always first to train. “He is alpha male in the way that he feels entitled to food,” says Hanlin, “and he is going to be the first one to get it.”

Pointing to the blood pressure device, she says, “This beeps a little bit, so we have to make sure that they are comfortable with the beeping and extra noises.” With the cost of equipment, Hanlin uses a two-keeper process: one to handle equipment and one whose eyes are on the chimp. Training starts with broken cuffs before using a functioning cuff.

And, of course, for the chimps, food serves as motivation during training sessions. The reward that gets them going? Very diluted Ensure, a ready-to-drink shake packed with protein and nutrients, generally intended for adults who are struggling with malnutrition or unwanted weight loss. “It’s very high value, it’s very yummy,” says Hanlin. So yummy that Hanlin found herself drinking it too. “I was like, wait a minute, I am putting on too much weight,” she recalls with a laugh.

The high calorie count in Ensure, even diluted, means it can’t be repeatedly used as the keepers monitor the chimps’ intake. Once Hanlin’s got them engaged, she switches to diluted juice. And when a task is completed? “Jackpot!” Fruit such as apple slices and frozen strawberries are the reward.

Are there other reinforcements that work for these social creatures? “Definitely,” says Hanlin, noting that the chimps respond to verbal praise, such as “You’re such a good chimp!” Or “Look at you, you accomplished this incredible thing!” But at the end of the day, a food reward is king.

“Everything is through positive reinforcement,” says Hanlin, noting that the chimps train daily but have the option to walk away from a task they don’t want to do. In that case, they don’t get to skip training completely. Sometimes, it’s “back to kindergarten” for them. What does that mean? Back to basics. Hanlin asks them to point to their fingers or toes, or open their mouths. “And that’s another confidence-booster for them.”

For now, she hopes that the work she and Tien are doing encourages more zoos across the country to perform voluntary data collection on their great apes. “If you have the support of your curators, your vet staff and your coworkers at the zookeeper level, it can be done and this can be the new normal of collecting data.”

Most of the time when heart disease is the cause of death, Hanlin notes, “We don’t find out until the animal passes suddenly and necropsy is performed.”

Such was the case with Katie, a chimp Hanlin worked with closely in Florida who passed away suddenly in January 2019. “She just vomited one day and wouldn’t move,” she says, recalling how she and her team thought Katie was suffering from gastrointestinal issues. She now knows better. “Looking back on it, that was her first heart attack.” The second one, which would prove fatal, came two weeks later.

Hanlin holds out her left forearm. On its inside is a tattoo of two chimps — Katie and her beloved companion, Murray — facing each other, their lips barely grazing as they gaze into one another’s eyes. “I wish I could get all the chimps and animals Ive worked with as tattoos, but Katie and Murray will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Every day, Hanlin moves the needle on training the chimps in her care, who inevitably make a mark on her. The hope for this young keeper is that she will make her own mark on them, creating a lasting impact on their species. As her hero, Jane Goodall, once said, “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when theyre empowered to take action.”  OH

At the end of December 2023, Tien and Hanlin were awarded the 2023 Engage Award from the Animal Behavior Management Alliance for a piece they contributed entitled Great Ape Training at the North Carolina Zoo. ABMAs Engage magazine publishes articles about training and behavior from around the world, so this is quite an achievement.