Wandering Billy

Rise of the Mill

A glimpse of Greensboro’s past and present


By Billy Eye

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent. — Joe Sparano

Following the vibrant reemergence of Greensboro’s Mill District — the Cone family’s Revolution Mill and Printworks Mill now thriving as multiuse commercial and residential hubs — another dilapidated manufacturing plant is undergoing a multimillion-dollar reimagining for what promises to be a spectacular setting for 170 apartments and townhomes.

That explains the hive of activity in and around a former, venerable hosiery mill located on Howard Street. It’s close to the railroad tracks near the west end of UNCG’s campus — behind Hops Burger Bar and Bites & Pints Gastro Pub on Spring Garden.

The property dates back to 1926 when three manufacturers from New York, Bernard Mock, Nathaniel Judson and John K. Voehringer, formed the Mock, Judson, Voehringer Company of North Carolina. It operated out of a 10,000-square-foot building adjacent to the rail lines on Oakland Avenue and originally hired 14 workers. Over time, the enterprise morphed into a leading producer of women’s silk stockings, Mojud Hosiery Company.

Over the next decade, undeterred by the Great Depression, the company employed some 600 workers, the overwhelming majority of them female, and was producing more than 4 million pairs of nylon hosiery by 1928. In fact, Mock, Judson, Voehringer was one of the primary employers of the county’s working women — an alternative to rolling stogies for the El-Rees-So Cigar Company. The complex eventually expanded to 140,000 square feet.

In 1938, a retail outlet was established at the mill to showcase the Mojud brand ladies’ lingerie produced on site, quite possibly making it the nation’s first outlet store. In those early days, customers took a number and lined up outside to gain admittance so as to not crowd the store.

No less than Charles C. Hartmann — the architect responsible for the Jefferson Standard Building and the Central Fire Station on Greene Street (as well as some of the city’s finest homes) — was called in to design some plant additions, a storefront and an attached Art Deco inspired office festooned with glass bricks.

This was the largest such facility in the South by the 1940s, and the first in the South to manufacture elegant chiffon hosiery. The company’s advertising campaigns featured movie stars like Rita Hayworth, Virginia Mayo and Ginger Rogers, who famously danced 27 miles in Mojud’s “Magic Motion” sheer stockings. The company’s mascot, Mojud Man, was a Cupid-like character designed by Vic Herman, the illustrator who also created Elsie the Cow for Borden Dairy Company, Reddy Kilowatt and Harvey Comics’ Little Dot.

During World War II, with all silk and nylon redirected for making parachutes, the plant switched over to making rayon hosiery. After the war ended, pent-up demand for the real thing reinvigorated the company with three shifts of 2,000 employees working nonstop to produce some 19 million pairs of nylons a year.

Because temperature control was crucial to the process, when air conditioning was introduced in the late-1940s, all of the windows ringing the facility were bricked in. Today, they are being uncovered so that daylight can once again brighten the interior. In the 1950s, Mock, Judson, Voehringer officially rebranded itself as Mojud Hosiery.

It took a (mill) village to make the Cone manufacturing plants successful. Like other textile giants, Cone built villages to house its employees (five in Greensboro), and added churches, schools, ballfields and company stores to lure workers.

Mojud was the odd duck that didn’t cocoon its employees in a morning-to-night experience with company-provided housing and other amenities. Instead, their workers populated the up-and-coming Lindley Park and Highland Park neighborhoods and dined in the plant’s cafeteria between shifts.

The company published its own monthly magazine, The Mojud Singer, which featured employee comings and goings, birth announcements and scoreboards for their championship winning men and women’s basketball teams.

Around 1956, after the company was purchased by Burlington-based Kayser-Roth Corporation, the former Mojud store became a Rolane Factory Outlet, which remained open on the site long after the plant was shuttered in 1972.

Rolane was a popular destination for back-to-school clothing, jeans, socks and an aromatic pink skin lotion sold at the checkout counter next to the Jordan Almonds. If I got a new car coat or windbreaker as a youngster, it likely came from Rolane. Eventually, Rolane expanded to more than 40 locations, including a storefront at Golden Gate Shopping Center.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, for over 30 years the property has been subject to the cruelties of the environment but has served as a sprawling brick canvas for graffiti artists of varying levels of talent.

Mark Spangenberg of Durham-based Belk Architecture is spearheading the project following Belk’s very successful reinvention of the Revolution Mill, as well as Durham’s Brightleaf Square and American Tobacco Campus. Despite being largely abandoned for nearly half a century, the original masonry structure of the manufacturing plant remains fully intact — “good bones” as they call it — making this hulking structure an ideal candidate for a restoration estimated to cost in excess of $20 million.

The same crew that brought Revolution Mill back to life, general contractor CT Wilson and their team, are in the early stages of construction with electricians restoring the old gal’s spark. Heavy machinery will clear away a forest of weeds grown thick and tall as trees on the south side of the property, where a pool and recreation center will be located. And craftsmen are busy refurbishing the signature wooden staircase and a heavy timber structure at the building’s east end.

The extant two-story atrium in the common area of the complex will serve as a communal space, while the adjacent boiler house and smokestack will be integrated into the campus.

Attorney and developer Mark Bouldin of St. Petersburg, Fla., purchased the 8.7-acre property three years ago from former owner Marty Kotis. Kotis had unveiled ambitious and preliminary plans for what is now being called the Judson Mock Project back in 2001. Objections came not from adjacent neighborhoods or UNCG, aka “the usual suspects,” but from the Sherwin-Williams paint distribution center across Howard Street. They were concerned about additional traffic impeding their operations, as well as escaping paint fumes bothering future tenants. Those issues were addressed, and Sherwin-Williams has since acquiesced, allowing the project to proceed without impediment.   

As our city embraces the future, increasingly it is our antiquated industrial infrastructure — which until very recently was considered a gargantuan eyesore — that lights the way, defining how we live and interact in a world that would have seemed unimaginable to those three businessmen from New York who dared to venture South so long ago.   OH

Billy Eye, a former Hollywood movie-poster designer who grew up in and currently resides in Greensboro, would love to wear his Rolane car coat if he still had it.


New Birds on the Block

You never know. You could spot a western tanager


By Susan Campbell

The most exciting part of watching birds is that you never know who might show up — and when. After all, they have wings. They can and do show up, almost anytime, almost everywhere.

Here in the Piedmont and Sandhills of North Carolina, western wanderers suddenly show up, soaring overhead, perched in treetops or even at our feeders.

Like the western tanager, for instance, which we’ll get to shortly. But a few words on the wanderers first.

Some birds are more prone to vagrancy than others. Whether this behavior is aimlessness — getting lost or being blown off course — is hard to say. Not surprisingly, long-distance migrants are at highest risk for becoming confused en route. And while it’s been studied at great length, the truth is that we understand very little about migration.

Here’s all we know: most birds are successful at migration, which allows their genes to be passed on to the next generation. This is not to say that those birds that end up off track are bound to stay lost forever or perish as a result of a wrong turn along the way. In fact, researchers believe that, in some cases, these out-of-place individuals represent the beginning of a range expansion for their species. It’s documented: Bird populations move into new areas of the United States.

A species that has been observed well outside of its normal range in the winter more and more frequently is the western tanager. This small and colorful songbird is found in the warmer months throughout most of the Western United States in a variety of wooded habitats. Come fall, they traditionally head for Mexico and Central America. But in the early 1990s, one showed up at a feeder in Wilmington. It stayed for the winter and, amazingly, repeated its winter stay twice, happily feeding on suet, shelled seeds and fruit.

Since that first visitor, more than two dozen western tanagers have been documented along the southern coast of our state. What does this mean? It’s probably too soon to tell. But bird lovers in our southeastern counties are keeping an eye out for westerns each year.

This winter, a male western tanager has reportedly settled into a yard in Apex. The host is pleased. And more than likely, the handsome bird is one of two that were in residence there last season.

All tanagers molt twice a year. Because they’re drab looking from early fall through early spring, western tanagers are sometimes hard to identify when they appear in the East. Unlike our more common summer and scarlet tanagers, westerns have noticeable barring on their wings and are a bit brighter yellow on their under parts.

I would wager that very few people reading this column have ever seen a western tanager out of its seasonal range. But it pays to be prepared with binoculars and a good field guide should an unfamiliar visitor appear. Wherever you are, rarities are always possible, even in your own backyard.  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos, especially if it’s a western tanager. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com.

Weekend Away

Not Your Average Farm Town

The Madcap gents lap up the small-town pleasures of Farmville, Virginia


By Jason Oliver Nixon

When John and I think up ideas for our weekends away, it’s easy to consider obvious road-trip destinations such as Charleston and Savannah (stay tuned . . . they’re on our list). But we also like to shake it up with locations that are off the beaten path.

Like Farmville in central Virginia.

Situated 2 hours and 40 minutes north of High Point, Farmville, population 8,000, isn’t exactly your average farm town.

In fact, it’s something of a design mecca. Truly.

But that’s not all.

It turns out that it’s a charming and supremely walkable college town with stately brick architecture, a handful of spot-on restaurants and heaps of green space, including the awe-inspiring High Bridge Trail with an entrance that sits smack on Main Street.

Plus, the town serves as the perfect home base for visits to nearby historic sites such as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and lesser-known Poplar Forest — without the crush, say, of bustling Charlottesville.

John and I discovered Farmville’s recently overhauled, 1930s-era Hotel Weyanoke while trawling possible road-trip destinations online. We were smitten with the images of the hotel’s sympathetic renovation that mixes period architecture with modern flourishes. But the hostelry is, in fact, far better than the online images suggest.

The Weyanoke boasts 70 sleek, contemporary rooms and two restaurants — the Taproot Tavern and Effingham’s. Expect craft beer, cool cocktails and smart cooking (think coal-fired pizzas, crab cakes with creamy rémoulade and a terrific burger with homemade pickles atop a brioche bun).

It’s also dog-friendly.

The pound-rescue pups — Weenie, Cecil, Amy Petunia and George — accompanied us for the weekend, a frolicsome quartet that relished everything about the comfortable junior suite, including its sitting area, sprawling bathroom and Juliet balcony. And at just $150 per night, the room was a steal.

The Weyanoke’s rooftop cocktail bar, the Catbird Rooftop Terrace, was closed for the season, but we plan to return in a more clement season for a little rosé with a view. We loved the hotel’s signature green bikes, perfect for exploring next door Longwood University with its pedestrian friendly, postcard-perfect campus.

Hotel Weyanoke ticks off one Farmville design box. And then there’s Green Front Furniture, a sprawling discount furniture company that comprises 13 buildings over several blocks of downtown. Should you seek any type of furnishing, accessory, rug or patio set under the sun, Green Front is your nirvana. Its showrooms are housed within various storefronts up and down Farmville’s main street, including former department stores and dramatically lit tobacco warehouses that look as if they were plucked from the canals of Amsterdam.

Traditional furniture brands such as Theodore Alexander make a big presence. As does Kindel. Gabby and Summer Classics. Hickory Chair. And on and on.

Lest you feel overwhelmed, Green Front has a great map that will give you the lay of the land.

We cross paths with the charismatic 20-something Den Crallé, a Farmville native and the force behind Green Front Furniture.

“We love being an inherent part of the Farmville community,” Crallé tells us. “The town is super dynamic and only getting better and better. You can shop for furniture, dine, spend the weekend at a great hotel, wander the wonderful campuses and really enjoy a classic American small-town experience.”

John and I walked. We hiked. We trotted the dogs up and down Main Street. We browsed furniture at Green Front for clients. We visited nearby Hampden-Sydney College and brunched on BBQ at The Fishin’ Pig. We dined at Mex-centric one19, where we savored uber fresh scallop tacos paired with prickly pear margaritas and a mountain of chips and homemade salsa.

Speaking of mountains, on Saturday morning, John and I made the hour-long, bucolic drive to Monticello in Charlottesville. Thomas Jefferson’s mountaintop masterpiece is stunning, of course, the iconic architecture paired with a gorgeous panorama. Visitors can learn about the plantation’s history, sip local wines, wander amidst the vegetable gardens and visit Jefferson’s grave. But be prepared for swarms of people, loads of guidelines and — should you miss your social distancing marks — a quantum dose of admonitions. 

“Don’t come any closer, stay away,” lectured a particularly Teutonic guide when I humbly asked for directions to the loo from behind my mask.

Harumph. There went my warm and cozy feelings for Monticello.

Sunday morning’s hour-long pilgrimage to Poplar Forest, Jefferson’s less-celebrated retreat near Lynchburg, Va., restored my optimism. There was nothing didactic or dictatorial about our visit to Jefferson’s folly-like pavilion. And there were no crowds. John and I were two of eight people on the property for a 12:30 p.m. guided tour. Surrounded by suburban sprawl, Poplar Forest has managed to cobble back 600 acres to its original 5,000 and offers stunning views in certain sight lines (and, sadly, perspectives onto vinyl-clad ranch houses in others). The home itself is amazing — a cube surrounded by a Palladian-inspired symmetry that, lacking furniture, celebrates Jefferson’s architectural masterstrokes. Restoration work continues. Happily, there is a master plan for Poplar Forest that will help reduce the suburban vistas and celebrate the estate’s extant surrounding nature. Interesting factoid: Poplar Forest was rescued in the 1980s by a High Point doctor who saved the property from development before selling it to the nonprofit that currently runs the estate.

Back in Farmville, John and I finished off our busy weekend with a languid dinner at the groovy North Street Press Club eatery, housed in a super-cool former printing plant next door to the hotel. We sipped kicky Paloma cocktails and noshed on Vietnamese street tacos with tangy nuoc cham sauce from a vast around-the-world menu.

Our assessment of Farmville?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

Noted John, “I really like this town, who knew? What an unexpected, wonderful little gem.”  OH

The Madcap gents, John Loecke and Jason Oliver Nixon, embrace the new reality of COVID-friendly travel — heaps of road trips.

Home by Design

In the Hotseat at Aunt Ruth’s

I served my time and, frankly, would have preferred the aliens


By Cynthia Adams

Truvy’s Beauty Spot in Steel Magnolias equipped its Natchitoches, La., patrons to meet life with sky-high hair. But the Franklin Beauty Shop in Monroe, N.C., where my aunt delivered hard truths and even harder hair, was a very different place.

My Aunt Ruth’s shop, which opened in the 1950s, was an assault upon all the senses. It possessed the stark ambiance of a morgue. And it taught me this: Beauty is in the eyes, ears and nose of the beholder.

It was as utilitarian as my father’s barber shop: stark, fluorescent lights, pea green walls, Army green vinyl floor, three mirrors, three stations, three chairs outfitted with massive dryers and two manicure tables.

Large windows with open metal Venetian blinds (why was something so hideous called Venetian?) overlooked Franklin Street. Passersby could peer directly into her place, which, unlike the barber shop, emanated noxious chemical smells.

Incredulously, my aunt made a decent income and won devoted friends. It was ideally situated near the Oasis Sandwich Shop, which served fab sodas, floats, fries and burgers. There, I would idle while my mother got her “do.”

Even as a child, I understood that my mother was not improved by the ministrations of my aunt. Her hairdos might just as well have been created with tongs and barbecue tools.

Any fool could see she looked better going into the Franklin, as we called it, than she did leaving it. The drive home was confirmation as my mother dusted ditches raking a brush through her shellacked hair, “trying to fix this before we get home,” she’d scoff, as the green Olds swayed across lanes.

Mama was never, ever pleased by her sister’s work.

Ruth, a natural beauty, loved the natural world and could have been a botanist. But her school principal father stubbornly steered her into cosmetology, where she studied the darker arts of beauty.

Why oh why? 

He died before I was born or I would have asked.

Her customers’ hair was more often than not dyed or bleached an unnatural shade of blue-black, red or yellow, curled tight, then baked into place beneath oversized dryers suitable for flood recovery operations.

Clients emerged pink faced from the blasting heat of the silvery green stationary dryers and then submitted to the next step: a comb out. This involved teasing with a rat-tail comb before the requisite (lethal) final step: Spray Net.

Hair sprays of this era contained vinyl chloride, a propellant later proven to be carcinogenic. Hard fact.

Another hard fact: My aunt’s clients looked uniformly alike once they climbed out of the sturdy swivel chair.

By Ruth’s hands, my grandmother’s hair became a blue-black hue I rarely observed in nature, apart from a rare beetle specimen at the Natural Science Center.

It puzzled me why anyone paid Aunt Ruth at all.

Speaking of payment, I privately yearned to operate the large green cash register that stood at the entry with the appointments book, watching as customers wrote out checks and waved goodbye “till the next time.”  Instead, I thumbed through worn Photoplay and McCall’s magazines in the waiting area. 

At age 10, when many of my friends were getting a Toni perm in their kitchen, it was decreed: my straight ponytail was inadequate. Aunt Ruth would give me a professional do before my new school year.

She washed my long straight hair, then mixed toxic chemicals in a glass bowl. As they stewed, she clipped and chopped. 

Once the carnage was over, the remaining hair was tightly wound around bright pink perm “rods,” a term co-opted from nuclear physicists. Perm rods are to perms what uranium rods are to nuclear reactors. Either way, they’re volatile.

She applied chemicals to the perm rods. A black hair net held it in lock down.

I was walked to a dryer where this tragic concoction was to “set.”

Under the dryer, my eyes stung from the putrid reaction. When my scalp and ears began burning from the blasting heat, I jumped out. But Aunt Ruth ordered me back, lowering the dryer temp to nearly tolerable.

The timer pinged and I sprang free. As the rods were removed and my head cooled, I studied the clock: it was now half past my childhood.

Ruth swiveled the chair toward the mirror.

The shock caused me to bite my lip so hard it bled. 

I looked precisely like my grandmother.

My mother was tense as she swung onto the highway. A stifling ammonia cloud filled the car. I cracked the window to cool my face, still hot and now overwhelmed with the enormity of my strangeness. “Don’t worry. My hair can’t move,” I said.

Once home, my father took one look and moaned. “Dear Lord. The child’s ruined.”

Devastated, I shuffled out of the house to the barn in search of Trigger, a gentle pony who cocked his head quizzically before accepting a hug. I climbed into the loft, where I did my best thinking, cried a little, then concocted a story owing much to Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone

I was playing outside when a space ship landed in the pasture. Aliens zapped me. A lot of my hair burned off right there! I’m just lucky to be alive.

It wasn’t exactly original or believable, but an improvement on the story I invented about how I needed a life-saving operation after peeing myself on the playground.

Bus #15 swung down our road the next morning, where I waited in a plaid skirt and white blouse, holding a new book satchel, bracing myself. Johnny swung the bus door open; there it was — his open-mouthed surprise. But I turned away and searched the aisle for Martha or Kenneth.   

They would totally buy my story about my hair-today, gone-tomorrow alien abduction.   OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor of O.Henry magazine.

Scuppernong Bookshelf

Make It New

January releases to inspire change, sweet change


Compiled by Brian Lampkin

January in the book world is no different than January in all the other worlds. The promise of rebirth, new growth and new selves is met by the equal forces of self-doubt, resistance and inertia. Here we’ll try to break through the standoff and offer you plausible, possible and even pleasurable ways to enact change. And we all need plenty of change after the traumas of 2020.

Jan. 5: What Matters Most: The Get Your Shit Together Guide to Wills, Money, Insurance, and Life’s “What-ifs,” by Chanel Reynolds (Harper Wave, PB: $17.99). On July 17, 2009, Chanel Reynolds’ husband, José, was struck by a van while cycling near their home in Seattle and died one week later. Just hours after the accident, Reynolds realized that she was completely unprepared for what came next: What was the password to her husband’s phone? Were their wills legally binding? How much insurance did they have? Could she afford the house? And what the hell was probate anyway? Simply put, she didn’t have her shit together. As it turns out, neither do most of us. We’re too busy and too overwhelmed, or we don’t know where to start. But here’s the thing: You can’t half-ass the important stuff, and hoping for the best is not a plan. Reynolds learned that lesson the hard way so you don’t have to.

Jan. 5: Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age, by Sanjay Gupta (Simon & Schuster, $28). The longtime CNN medical heartthrob continues to help us through the pandemic, performs brain surgeries routinely and writes books? Keep Sharp debunks common myths about aging and cognitive decline, explores whether there’s a “best” diet or exercise regimen for the brain, and explains whether it’s healthier to play video games that test memory and processing speed, or to engage in more social interaction. Discover what we can learn from “super-brained” people who are in their 80s and 90s with no signs of slowing down — and whether there are truly any benefits to drugs, supplements and vitamins. Dr. Gupta also addresses brain disease, particularly Alzheimer’s, answers all your questions about the signs and symptoms and shows how to ward against it and stay healthy while caring for a partner in cognitive decline. He likewise offers a personalized 12-week program featuring practical strategies to strengthen your brain every day.

Jan. 5: Every Body: An Honest and Open Look at Sex from Every Angle, by Julia Rothman & Shaina Feinberg (Voracious, $28). Have you ever had a question about sex — whether out of curiosity, desire or the sneaking suspicion that you’re, somehow, different? Every Body will help you feel less alone. It’s a huge collection of anonymous stories, essays, artwork and expert tell-alls on myriad subjects, all rolled into one. Really, they’re the conversations most of us are too scared to start. Framed by dozens of artists’ illustrations, deeply personal interviews and expert essays that address stigmas and clichés, this book is an informative, welcoming and inclusive user’s guide to your body, no matter its shape, size or preferences.

Jan. 12: Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing, by Olga Mecking (Houghton Mifflin, $19.99). Don’t just do something, sit there. Backed with advice from the world’s leading experts on happiness and productivity, this book examines the underlying science behind niksen (that’s Dutch for “doing nothing”) and how doing less can often yield so much more. Perfect for anyone who feels overwhelmed, burnt out or exhausted, Niksen does not tell you to work harder. Instead, it shows you how to take a break from all the busyness while giving you sincere, heartfelt permission to do nothing.

Jan 12: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders (Random House, $28). Saunders guides the reader through seven classic Russian short stories he’s been teaching for 20 years as a professor in the prestigious Syracuse University MFA creative writing program. Paired with stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol, these essays are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times. Saunders approaches each of these stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is as much a craft as it is a quality of openness and a willingness to see the world through new eyes. Funny, frank and rigorous, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain ultimately shows how great fiction can change a person’s life and become a benchmark of one’s moral and ethical beliefs.

Jan. 26: The Dance Cure: The Surprising Science to Being Smarter, Stronger, Happier, by Peter Lovatt (HarperOne, $22.99). Dancing isn’t just good exercise. Surrendering yourself to the beat can have a far-reaching impact on all areas of your life — it can help you communicate better, think more creatively, and can be a powerful catalyst for change. Losing yourself in the moment to a song or piece of music can also alleviate anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation, Dr. Peter Lovatt has found. Drawing on great stories from dance history as well as fascinating case studies from his Dance Psychology Lab and his own life, Dr. Lovatt shares his best steps and routines, as well as top dance anthems to inspire everyone — even those who believe they “can’t dance” — to turn the music on, stand up and dance themselves happy. 

There you have it: Dancing, reading, thinking, sex and a healthy dose of nothing. I can live with these changes in my life. Perhaps 2021 might be bearable after all.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books

Omnivorous Reader

We Got the Beat

The richness of North Carolina’s music


By Stephen E. Smith

In his latest book, Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk, music critic David Menconi lays it out in the prologue: “Music is North Carolina’s tuning fork — not tobacco, basketball, NASCAR, or even barbecue — because it’s not just in the air here, but also the soul.”

Barbecue gobbling, nicotine-addicted NASCAR/Carolina fans might take exception to Menconi’s premise, but for North Carolinians who have wandered through life with their ears pricked forward, there’s no denying that the state’s popular music scene has played a significant role in defining their identity. Charlie Poole, Blind Boy Fuller, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Nina Simone, James Taylor, the Red Clay Ramblers, Ben Folds, Mandolin Orange, and hundreds of other talented musicians, have, at one time or another, called the state home, and although a self-serving parochialism is at work here, there’s good reason to take pride in the music North Carolina has contributed to the world. We can’t claim a Nashville or an Austin or a New Orleans, but popular music would be a lot less interesting without us. And although the state’s boundaries are an arbitrary and artificial device for identifying musical movements and influences, there’s nothing new in employing “sense of place” as an organizing element. The Oxford American, for example, publishes an annual state music edition, with North Carolina featured in their winter 2018 issue.

If sex — oh, all right, true love — is the primary inspiration for most pop tunes, race has been a troubling subtext in much of the music North Carolina artists have created. What could be a more revealing example than the “beach music” craze of the 1950s and ’60s where crowds of privileged white guys, decked out in patch-madras britches and alligator wing-tipped tasseled Nettletons, shuffled to sexually implicit dance candy produced almost exclusively by Black artists who wouldn’t have been allowed admission to the venues where they were performing?

Menconi’s compendium is generally arranged chronologically, with scant attention paid to music as folklore (we’re talking “popular” music here), and Bascom Lamar Lunsford is as close as Menconi comes to crediting traditional influences. The rough and tumble antics of Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers is his starting point in “Linthead Pop.” Poole, who was born and raised in Randolph County and spent much of his life working in cotton mills, thrived musically in and around North Carolina in the 1920s and ’30s, and his influence on popular music has waxed and waned with changing tastes. Nevertheless, he remains an essential, almost mythical figure in the history of the state’s music.

Piedmont blues artists who worked the Bull City tobacco markets receive their due in chapter two: Blind Boy Fuller, the Rev. Gary Davis, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Elizabeth Cotton and Etta Baker are credited with influencing popular artists well into the 21st century.

“Through the Airwaves” is a much-deserved tribute to Charlotte-based Arthur Smith, whose superb musicianship and entrepreneurial savvy brought North Carolina music into the mid- to late-20th century. Menconi writes: “Smith didn’t just figure out syndication and diversification but vertical integration, controlling the means of production” by establishing a studio in Charlotte that catered to “the likes of Statler Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, James Brown, and Johnny Cash.” Smith’s copyright infringement suit over “Dueling Banjos,” a 1972 hit from the movie Deliverance, is explicated in detail, correcting lingering misconceptions concerning the tune’s authorship and Smith’s strategic lawsuit against industry giant Warner Brothers.

Greensboro readers will appreciate Menconi’s focus on The 5 Royales, a Triad-based gospel-inspired group who enjoyed nationwide popularity in the ’50s and early ’60s. Best known for having written and recorded “Dedicated to the One I Love” — later covered by the Shirelles and the Mamas and the Papas — the Royales’ story is one of hard work and little pay. What should have amounted to considerable income from record royalties never materialized. After the Royales’ singer-songwriter Lowman Pauling’s death, his wife received a check for $6. “I hate to say it,” Pauling’s son observes, “but in the Jim Crow South, black people got the shaft.”

Doc Watson, the Appalachian flat picker who’s an institution for North Carolinians, is the subject of a thoroughly researched chapter that will enlighten even longtime Watson fans, and the benighted beach music craze is given more than adequate attention in a chapter ironically titled “Breaking the Color Lines at the Beach.” The hit-and-miss career of Eastern North Carolina’s Nantucket is detailed in “The Eight-Track Era of Rock and Roll,” and Chapel Hill is dubbed the “Next Seattle” in an essay that celebrates Ben Folds and the Squirrel Nut Zippers.

Menconi examines the rise of North Carolina record labels, including Colonial, Sugar Hill and Merge records, and the popularity of Americana, Alternative, and Hip-Hop is explored through the music of the Avett Brothers, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the Kruger Brothers, Mandolin Orange, the Backsliders, and 9th Wonder and Little Brother.

Of particular interest is Menconi’s appreciation of the great Nina Simone, a Tryon native whose immense talent was shaded by her railings against racial injustice. She and other Black artists fled the state. “That’s especially the case with jazz,” Menconi writes, “starting with Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Max Roach. . . . And after Blind Boy Fuller died in 1941, his Durham blues peers Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Rev. Gary Davis all decamped to the North.”

Sprinkled throughout the text are sidebars that recognize artists of particular merit — the Steep Canyon Rangers, Chatham County Line, Shirley Caesar, Tift Merritt, the Embers, James Taylor, John D. Loudermilk, Link Wray, Rhiannon Giddens and many others. Still, it’s impossible to get it all in. There’s just too much good stuff to fit into 300 pages, and many fans will be mildly disappointed to find their favorite musician omitted.

Still, Menconi provides a valuable service to North Carolina music lovers, a well-researched and beautifully written primer that’s essential in understanding the state’s contribution to popular music. Moreover, he establishes a jumping-off point from which yet-to-be-written books might explore with more specificity the state’s musical diversity by region and genre.  OH

Stephen E. Smith is a retired professor and the author of seven books of poetry and prose. He is the recipient of the Poetry Northwest Young Poet’s Prize, the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Prize for poetry and four North Carolina Press Awards.

The Creators of N.C.

Bottling the Past

In Robeson County, where the grapes grow sweet, a Lumbee-owned winery thrives


By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

Two legends persist in North Carolina, both of which have spread like twining vines from Roanoke Island westward across the state. One legend is about grapes, the other is about the Lost Colony, and both converge in Robeson County.

First, the legend of grapes: It is believed that when British explorers sent by Sir Walter Raleigh arrived on Roanoke Island in 1584, they were greeted by the sweet aroma of muscadine grapes hanging ripe on the vines. Centuries later, the “Mother Vine,” which is believed to be the oldest known grapevine in the United States at 400 years old, is still thriving on the Outer Banks, roughly two feet thick at its base and covering nearly a half-acre.

The second legend is the legend of the Lost Colony. Most North Carolinians know that Raleigh’s 1587 expedition, led by John White, disappeared while White was making a return trip to England for supplies. Three years later, when White came back to the colony, he discovered that nothing had been left behind aside from the word CROATOAN, which was etched into a gate, and the letters CRO that had been carved into a tree. What happened to these British colonists? Among the many theories, one is that the settlers moved inland and befriended Native American tribes, eventually intermarrying and joining the vast network of Native people who had been living in the region for centuries before White settlers arrived. Many believe that descendants of the Lost Colony moved as far inland as present day Robeson County, eventually calling themselves Lumbee in honor of the Lumber (or Lumbee) River. Perhaps that would explain why the Lumbee Indians, the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River with a population of over 70,000, have always spoken English as their common language.

Not so, writes Malinda Maynor Lowery, associate professor of history and director of the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC-Chapel Hill, who is herself a Lumbee Indian who was born in Robeson County. In her book, The Lumbee Indians: An American Struggle, Lowery writes, “The Lumbees are descendants of the dozens of tribes in that territory, as well as of free European and enslaved African settlers who lived in what became their core homeland.”

According to Lowery, the Lumbee’s use of English as their common language is not due to their being founded by the members of the Lost Colony, but was more a matter of convenience as a mixture of tribal communities began to coalesce in the area after migrating to escape disease, warfare and slavery. Native people have lived in what is now Robeson County for 13,000 years, long before Sir Walter Raleigh had his earliest notions of empire.

If the Lost Colony cannot explain the existence of the Lumbee Indians in Robeson County, it probably cannot explain the westward expansion of the muscadine grape either. According to the North Carolina Muscadine Grape Association, “in the early 1800s, North Carolina was a national leader in wine production and in 1840 was the nation’s top wine producer, with an industry built entirely on muscadine grapes.” There are currently 200 licensed wineries in North Carolina, generating $375 million each year in wages and $89 million in state taxes.

One of the 200 licensed wineries is Locklear Vineyard and Winery in Maxton, N.C. For the past 15 years, Charlie Locklear and his two sons, Charlie Jr. and Daryl, proud members of the Lumbee tribe, have been growing muscadine grapes and making a plethora of wines on the land that has belonged to the family for generations. The elder Charlie, who was born in 1942 and grew up farming tobacco, corn, cotton and “a little bit of hay” with his family, started making wine as a hobby. “I just loved to do it,” he says on one bright day in early fall, only a few weeks after the vines have been harvested.

The operation is tightly run, primarily by family and close family friends, with everything from the growing to the harvesting to the bottling happening on the Locklears’ property, where an old barn has been converted into a winery that features a tasting room and retail space. Outside, the land stretches for miles. Charlie, whose likeness appears on all of Locklear Winery’s bottles, remembers a time when the family was no less tied to the land, but simply had more land to tie themselves to. His great-grandfather owned 3,000 acres, and his grandfather came to own and farm roughly 300. “If you’re not farming the big way now, you just can’t make it,” Charlie says, referring to the boom and bust of the agribusiness cycle that often finds farmers relying on huge yields to pay down debts for machinery and land. Now, the Locklears own 70 acres of land, considerably less than in the past, but the land is put to good use, much of it comprised of the vineyard where two variations of muscadine grapes — Noble and Carlos — are grown. The Noble muscadine is red, the wine sweet yet crisp. The Carlos is a white grape, resulting in wine with a sweeter, smoother finish.

“I like to experiment with different ways to make wine,” Charlie says. “If you make a good product that tastes good, people are going to buy it.” And people have bought it, and word of the sweet wine from Robeson County continues to spread. While their sales are highest in the local market, Locklear wines are sold throughout Eastern North Carolina, across the Piedmont and into the western part of the state. The winery now employs more people than ever before.

Robeson County can be a conservative place, and one has to wonder what the locals thought when Charlie Locklear decided to turn his wine-making hobby into a family business. “Most people embraced it,” he says. “Probably 90 percent of them. You’re never going to get 100 percent on nothing.” But folks will go easy on a local boy, especially when the family name is nearly as old as the land itself. Along with other surnames — Oxendine, Chavis, Dial, Lowery or Lowry or Lowrie among them — Locklears have a long history in the region, and Charlie has the roots to prove it.

“I was born here,” he says, “and in 1948 we went straight across the road and built a house. And when I got married in 1964, we remodeled this house, which was my grandfather’s house, and we’ve been here ever since.”

Locklear is a prominent name, he continues, and there are a lot of them.

“Our ancestors were here, and we were people with high education and businesses. We’re just continuing to promote the family tree, businesswise.”

And what does it mean to Charlie Locklear to work this land and create a family business from it?

“Well, I hope it’s an encouragement to Lumbees,” he says. “And I hope it’s an encouragement to Whites and Blacks too: If you want to achieve something, you can achieve it. Don’t let other people tell you what to do. It’s like target practice: If you shoot at it long enough, you’ll hit it.”

After centuries of his people being on this land, it’s clear that Charlie’s aim is pretty good.  OH

Wiley Cash and his photographer wife, Mallory, live in Wilmington, N.C. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

Life’s Funny

The Long View

Seeing the New Year through Old Eyes


By Maria Johnson

We had a running joke.

Every year, for 30-plus years, I would make a layered, Mexican dip in a ceramic dish, tote it to my friend’s Christmas party and “forget” to take home the crockery. The following December, a few days before the next party, my elderly host would rumble into my driveway — usually in a heavy-breathing Camaro — hop out and leave the empty (and clean) plate on my doorstep.

The message: Fill ’er up. Your deadline looms.

That stopped last month. My 94-year-old pal, Irwin Smallwood, and his wife, Judy, reluctantly called off their annual gathering, concluding that COVID made it too risky.

No one protested. The guest list skews older, not dumber. Most partygoers are newspaper vets who worked with Irwin during his 42-year hitch at the News & Record, a tour that routed him through the jobs of sports reporter, sports editor and managing editor.

He was a cracking good writer and editor; the media tent at The Wyndham Championship, Greensboro’s PGA tournament, is named for him.

But that’s not what pulled, and continues to pull, people to Irwin. Packaged in an elfin body and punctuated with wise eyes, a silver monk’s fringe and a soft voice, the main draw is his unfailing love, compassion and big-picture perspective, all rooted in a deep faith that he has passed on to his daughter, Bryn, a United Church of Christ minister.

“Occasionally my preacher-daughter will tell me, ‘Daddy, you’re not in charge.’ You know, the first time she said it, it sorta startled me,” he says with a twinkle in his voice.

Did I mention his sense of humor?

So party or no party, I was hungry to get Irwin’s take on one of the harshest winters of our lifetimes. After all, who’s better to ask for the long view than a man who sometimes refers to himself as “the oldest rat in the barn”?

I rang him up one chilly afternoon and asked him to compare COVID, in terms of historical heft, with other calamities that he has lived through: the Great Depression; World War II; and the polio epidemics that flared across the country in the late 1940s and the early ’50s, pinning people to their hearths before “safer at home” was a thing.

In some ways, Irwin says gently, COVID resembles each of these trials, which shaped daily life for most Americans.

It carries the invisible-enemy quality of polio.

It packs an economic devastation — hunger, joblessness, homelessness — that’s reminiscent of the Great Depression for those without financial cushions.

It claims an American death toll that might, at the rate it’s soaring, match World War II’s. At this writing, COVID has ended more than 300,000 lives in this country. The second world war reaped 475,000 American lives.

In other words, Irwin says, COVID is unique, and when all of the fallout is calculated, it could be the most shattering punch this country has taken in his lifetime.

“I’d say it’s tied for first with World War II. It has the potential to be number one,” he says rather calmly. “I think there are a lot of people who think it’s an annoyance. It’s not an annoyance. It’s a serious threat.”

I suppose that is why I’ve called him: to hear the news straight-up, from someone with experience.

I also called to hear some hope, and my favorite Love Gnome didn’t disappoint. He described responses to hardships of the past.

He saw his mother hand sandwiches to men who came to their back door begging for food during the Depression. They lived in the Eastern Kentucky town of Middlesboro at the time.

After his family followed his father’s textile job to Greensboro, and World War II broke out, Irwin watched Army-green trucks stream down U.S. 421, moving military supplies in seemingly endless lines.

“Sometimes, it would take a convoy eight hours to go by,” he says.

A month after he graduated from Greensboro Senior High, Irwin wore a Navy uniform. Across all social strata, folks suited up and sacrificed for the common good. Gas rationing, meat rationing, coastal blackouts. Everyone was on board with the tough stuff.

He likens the challenge, of course, to sports.

“It’s like going to practice,” he says. “Sometimes you have to work harder and go through a lot of punishment to get better.”

Victory takes many forms. Irwin ticks off the unforeseen fruits of World War II: Racial integration of the military; the infusion of women into the workplace; and the GI Bill, which paid for Irwin and legions of other vets, who couldn’t have afforded it otherwise, to go to college.

Already new advances, like vaccines, glimmer in the dust of COVID, he says.

“I have faith in my fellow human beings. We’ll come out of this stronger and better than ever,” he says. “But who knows how and who knows when. You don’t know what life is gonna bring.”

And with that, Irwin, who turns 95 next month, excuses himself to watch the young Tar Heel team play basketball in a holiday tournament that’s been relocated, because of COVID, from Hawaii to Asheville.

Different? Yes.

But then, as Irwin points out, so was the 1942 Rose Bowl, which was moved from Pasadena, Ca., to Durham, N.C., after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

The old sportswriter has seen this play before.  OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. She’s still waiting on her damned dish.


Chess in the City

Look what’s taking the world — and Greensboro — by silent, calculated storm


Though The Queen’s Gambit suggests historical drama, the Netflix miniseries is a Walter Tevis title. The subject? Chess.   

Tevis built a taut masterpiece around chess, just as he did with pool in The Hustler and The Color of Money.

When comedienne Ellen DeGeneres recently greeted Gambit’s star, Anya Taylor-Joy, she admitted she knew nothing about chess.

Is smart back in vogue?

Within weeks of Gambit’s late October release, chess sets began selling out in Greensboro. By December, The New York Times published make-your-own chess set tutorials — in paper for beginners, cardboard for intermediate players and origami for advanced players. 

Chess aficionado Scott McInnis, who began playing at age 3, founded the Greensboro Chess Club in 2013. Chess is his first and last daily thought, he admits, but he stepped down as president in 2017 when his first child, Elijah, was born. Of course, Elijah is learning the game. His name, and his infant sister, Eleanor’s name, both contain chess references. (Brian Miller is the current club president.)

Greensboro Chess Club members may not excel at origami, but they do know the board’s 64 squares. Pre-COVID, they met on Wednesdays at the Lewis Recreation Center. Now they meet online (chess.com). Ages 4–104 are welcome, says McInnis. And although the game is male dominated, he expressed his excitement that The Queen’s Gambit stars a woman.

Greensboro player Mac Moss began learning chess at age 8.  “Now I’m 72 and still making progress,” he shares, adding that he also enjoys playing internationally with the Internet Chess Club.

Though Moss took exception to drugging and chatting during a tournament in The Queen’s Gambit, he says it was excellent.

“One of the most interesting things about chess is that it is about combat, beauty and science. Each player tends to be more attracted to one of those elements; in my case, it’s the beauty.”

From his home in Germany, former Greensboro resident Peter Braun emails about how he bought one of the first computerized chess boards as a college student and tried to beat the program. He managed, but only at the lower levels. Only a Grandmaster could beat it, he says.

“When I was staying in Greensboro,” he adds, “I saw the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer on HBO . . . He was a cool American hero during the Cold War.”

McInnis has personally rubbed elbows with some high-level Grandmasters. “The vast, vast majority [of chess players] are overachievers, nerds. But they are bound for engineering, law school, et cetera.”  He recommends the website chesskid.com, and also “dinosaur chess.” 

“Chess is not just a game,” he says. “It is the fusion of science, math, art and competition.”

And it sure is beautiful.  OH

– Cynthia Adams

Short Stories

All About That Spoon

Following a long and dark December, Weatherspoon Art Museum reopens its doors on Saturday, Jan. 2, with a new exhibition. In fact, look for three openings this month. As the title suggests, Markmaking (on display through April 3) explores the application and effect of the various lines, scratches, smudges, patterns, dots and textures emerging from a selection of expressive works from the WAM collection. Next, Slow Looking/Deep Seeing (on display Jan. 16 through June 19) invites its viewers to get intimate. Inspired by findings that the average patron spends just eight seconds looking at a work of art, the exhibit was created to facilitate immersive viewing. Dive deeper on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 4 p.m. with “Teaching & Learning about Slow Looking,” a virtual event led by Shari Tishman, author and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Exhibit No. 3 opens on January 23. In a dance between abstraction and archival research, Falk Visiting Artist Xaviera Simmons explores lesser-known stories and experiences of Indigenous and Black Americans through a stunning collection of artworks on display through May 29. Weatherspoon Art Museum, 500 Tate St., Greensboro. Info: weatherspoonart.org


Writing Contest: 10 for 10

In honor of our namesake, William Sydney Porter, O.Henry is launching a short story contest for our 10-year anniversary. And that’s an emphasis on short. Tell us a story in 10 words. For inspiration, here’s a 6-word novel attributed to Hemingway: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Guidelines are simple. Using the subject line “O.Henry’s 10 for 10” submit your short story — one per entrant, please! — by email to ohenryturns10@gmail.com. Deadline: May 1, 2021. Winning entries will be published in our anniversary issue. Bonus points for pulling off an O. Henry twist.


We’ve Got Your Goat

If ever you’ve loved a Capricorn, then you have mastered the art of being wrong. Because everyone knows that Capricorns know everything. They really do. And they’re unbudgeable. Should you disagree with one, think twice before engaging in debate. After all, you’re dealing with a star sign represented as a horned sea-goat — stubborn and able to breathe underwater. But Capricorns mean well. Don’t you? And this month, with Venus in your sign, there’s a certain glow about you that people are starting to notice. Looking at the year ahead, with Mars acting like some sort of cosmic wingman, you’re going to see a lot of green lights. Your New Year in three words: Dance through it.

In the spirit of generosity, here’s 2021, stripped down for all of you. Deal with it or claim a new destiny.


Aquarius (January 20 – February 18): Trust your heart.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20): Keep it simple. 

Aries (March 21 – April 19): Use your words.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20): Less is more.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20): Believe in magic.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22): Take deep breaths. 

Leo (July 23 – August 22): Prepare for takeoff. 

Virgo (August 23 – September 22): Buy the shoes. 

Libra (September 23 – October 22): Raise your standards.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21): Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21): Watch your tongue.





Top left photo: Elliott Hundley, “The Body of Polydoros”, 2008. Weatherspoon Art Museum. Purchased with funds from the Dillard Fund and a partial gift of the artist and Andrea Rosen Gallery for the Dillard Collection, 2008.15 © Elliott Hundley, courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York