Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Looking homeward through the eyes of Wolfe

 My brother-in-law Greg Gambrell wrote a fine story in the Electric City News that described our hometown of Anderson through the words of Thomas Wolfe, the author of Look Homeward, Angel.

 Wolfe (1900-1938) was raised in Asheville, N.C., and his older sister Effie married Fred Gambrell, a grocer in Anderson, S.C. Effie (1887-1950) and Fred (1884-1952), portrayed as Daisy and Joe in the book, were Greg's grandparents. Anderson is named Henderson in the book, and Asheville is Altamont. 

 Wolfe evidently made several trips to Anderson, at a time when it was becoming known as The Electric City, thanks to the genius of William C. Whitner, an electrical pioneer associated with inventor Nikola Tesla. By the time Wolfe visited, our forefathers had electric streetcars and other conveniences. 

 Yet Wolfe did not see Anderson as a shining city on a hill. In his book, he described "Henderson" as:

"a haven of enervation, red clay, ignorance, slander, and superstition,
in whose effluent rays he (Fred) has been reared."

 I had to look up enervation. I hoped it was a deferential compliment to Mr. Whitner's energy and innovations. Instead, Mr. Webster defines enervate as a verb that means "to reduce mental or moral vigor."

 Ouch! That's my homefolks you're talking about, mister!

 On the other hand, I knew Wolfe didn't mind stepping on toes of those who recognized themselves in his thinly veiled fiction. In Look Homeward, Angel, he also insulted some of his old neighbors in Asheville—to the point that the city library banned his book for several years.

The Electric City (described by Wolfe as enervated) was enlightened through power generated by this hydroelectric plant that William Whitner built at Portman Shoals in 1897. As a boy, I remember visiting this dam and watching as it was inundated by Lake Hartwell.

After learning that my hometown had caught the harsh gaze of Thomas Wolfe, I started to wonder: What other writers have left us impressions of primordial Anderson?

 The first who came to mind was Hannibal Johnson (1841-1913), a who commanded the Union troops who occupied Anderson in 1865 and 1866. In 1905, Lt. Johnson returned to Anderson, which he described warmly in his memoir, The Sword of Honor. I encountered his book while researching my Civil War newspaper, The Stoneman Gazette

 With a 40-year perspective, Lt. Johnson described Anderson as "an obscure village ... grown into a thriving city." Johnson solicited the governor of Maine to support an Anderson teacher name Lenora Hubbard, who graciously tended for the graves of three Union soldiers in Anderson. Johnson's book includes letters from Miss Hubbard where she describes the hardships of life in Anderson in the Reconstruction era. 

 I will be on the lookout for other authors' impressions of Anderson. One I need to re-read is Clemson native Ben Robertson (1903-1943), author of Red Hills and Cotton: An Upcountry Memory. Robertson was a contemporary of Wolfe and wrote a sympathy letter to his mother, Julia Wolfe, after Tom died of tuberculosis at age 38. Robertson (a journalism graduate of Missouri like yours truly) died in a plane crash in Portugal while serving as a World War II correspondent. 

If you know of other authors who have written of Anderson's formative years, please leave a comment. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Remembering Radio

A sweet portrait of Radio and Coach Harold Jones
Photo credit: Ken Ruinard, Independent-Mail
I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but my tenth-grade year at T.L. Hanna High School was a historic time. That was the year that the Anderson schools were integrated, and an amazing athlete that the world knows as Jim Rice (we called him Ed) was gerrymandered from Westside to Hanna. As the scorekeeper for the Hanna baseball team in the spring of 1971, I had the opportunity to behold our own version of Jackie Robinson, a future Hall of Famer breaking the local color line. 
That same spring was when I met a 35-year-old fellow known as Radio who never missed Hanna baseball games at dinky old Nardin Field. There were no grandstands, so the fans and scouts sat on the field behind the chicken-wire backstop or milled around behind our bench. I didn't know Radio well, but over the years I came to appreciate him and his story.
In fact, the greatest regrets of my sportswriting career were that I never wrote the stories of Jim Rice and Radio. An Anderson sportswriter named Josh Peter told their stories instead, and did them justice.  Josh's story about Radio inspired Gary Smith to write the story for Sports Illustrated, which prompted the 2003 movie, Radio.
Radio's shoebox gift in Sudan
I've kept up with Radio over the years, and in 2003 he and Coach Harold Jones packed shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child. In my travels with Samaritan's Purse, I had the opportunity to deliver one of Radio's gift boxes to a little girl in Sudan. Of course, his box included a minature yellow T.L. Hanna football (which unfortunately was turned the wrong way for the photograph).
My years at Hanna were before Radio started attending class and became a perpetual 11th-grader. He was a fixture on the sidelines at hundreds of football games spanning more than 50 years. The last time I saw him was a rainy playoff game in 2018. This year, as his health declined, he was able to attend only one football game. This past weekend, he was admitted to the same hospice facility where my father died three years ago. On Dec. 15, 2019, a Sunday morning, Radio finally graduated from this life at age 73. (On June 5, 2020, he graduated posthumously from Hanna). Anderson won't be the same without him.
I've collected some tributes from those who knew him well. Jacky Newton was a classmate of mine who is now a pastor in Kentucky. Last week, when Radio was gravely ill, Jacky wrote this devotional:
 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:23)
If I asked you to pray for James Robert Kennedy, would you have any idea who I was referring too? Probably not. But if I called this man by his more common name, just about everybody in America would know who I was talking about. Yes, Mr. Kennedy is none other than RADIO!
I first met, or shall I say noticed, Radio when I was sitting in my 9th grade English class. You couldn’t mistake that laugh and the sound of his transistor radio as he would push and then ride his grocery cart down the hill beside McCants Junior High. He was there again after school chasing down the foul balls during batting practice; running and hiding from the baseball team. When football practice began on those hot July days, here was this shy, young black man watching us practice at Narden Field. If a football would find its way off the practice field, Radio would run like lightening to retrieve it and hesitantly pitch it back to one of the players.
It wasn’t long before Coaches Harold Jones and Dennis Patterson were able to gain Radio’s friendship and he became part of the Yellow Jacket “B Team” back in 1970. He drank from the same Gatorade bucket as we did, and pretended to do calisthenics. I’ll never forget the day down in that old field-house in the end zone of McCants Stadium when the coaches yelled down at a few of us in the shower, “Y’all put Radio in there with you and give him a bath!” LOL
Talk about trying to corral a wildcat! Radio wasn’t sure about us big boys, soap and water. But after a few minutes he liked standing under that hot water. My Senior year I couldn’t play football because of knee surgery so I helped tape ankles, make Gatorade, etc. But my main job during practice and on Friday nights was to watch after Radio. It was then I got to know him best. I could tell you a million Radio stories; like when he would stir the 5-gallon Gatorade bucket with his dirty hands and arm. Then there was the time that before the team could board the bus for the ride back home after an away game, Radio had already been on the bus and taken a bite out of each of their sandwiches.
I could go on and on but I’ll stop because everyone who has ever met Radio has a “Radio Story.” Even my mom called last month, she had met Radio and Coach Jones in rehab and of course she had a “Radio Story.” It’s amazing that a man with everything in the world against him has become a household name all across America and one of the most beloved persons to ever live.
This man who has never shot, thrown or caught a ball, or never competed in one single athletic event in high school, is in the TL Hanna High Athletic Hall of Fame. Yes, and he deserves to be there and will be remembered when most others are forgotten. A young black man who grew up in poverty, who could neither read, write or barely talk became a Hollywood Star. He roamed the halls of TL Hanna for 50 years but refused to be “promoted “ from the 11th grade. Why? Because if he ever became a Senior it would mean graduating and having to leave Hanna! lol
Yes, for almost 50 years, James Robert Kennedy, has led the Yellow Jackets onto the football field. He was present for every sporting event possible, men’s & women’s, as long as his health would allow.
 I got a call a few days ago to let me know that it seems that Radio could be approaching that final end zone. My heart is heavy, tears flow from my eyes. My ol’ buddy, an institution, may soon cross over that goal line of life. I also cry tears of joy because I know Radio is going to a far better place. A place where he can have a new body, a new mind; where he can run, dance and be like everyone else. Where he can be with his mother again. I’m sure Jesus is waiting to say, “Welcome home Radio!” And I’m sure one day, no doubt about it, I’ll hear Radio say, “Glad to see you Jacky. Wait til you taste the Gatorade up here!”
Don Miller is a retired coach in Greenville. His story references a couple of other local characters. (Read Gary Smith's SI story if you are wondering who they are.) Here is Don's tribute:
 A local icon has passed. I think everyone is familiar with the Radio story, at least if you are from the South. A book and movie chronicled the story of a mentally challenged young man who was befriended by a coach, school and community. Radio went on to be what I call the “Bell Ringer” for his school.
 If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s worth the rental with Cuba Gooding playing James “Radio” Kennedy and Ed Harris playing Coach Harold Jones. I was lucky enough to have met both Radio and Coach Jones as we squared off against each other on many fields of athletic endeavor. It was always a joy, win or lose, to meet up with Radio.
 Many small towns, even some larger ones, have bell ringers like Radio. I call them bell ringers because of one special man who rang the victory bell at a local high school’s football field. Some were flag bearers as they led their football team onto the field, through the goal post and hopefully on to victory. One, after growing old in age but not spirit, was buried in the local Legion baseball uniform. Undying loyalty even in death.
 Young men who grew old but never quite grew up. For some reason, God chose them to be both challenged and special. They were folks who in addition to being challenged, were special to their schools and were their school’s number one fan and “Bell Ringer.” They all possessed the wide-eyed wonderment and innocence associated with the young every time their teams took the field.
 Radio passed last night at seventy-three. He had been in bad health, in and out of the hospital will complications due to diabetes and kidney function. His hugs and smiles will be missed by the school and community.
 Last year the CBN network and 700 Club aired an interview and article on Radio’s and Coach Jones’s fifty-year friendship. I cannot improve upon it so I will simply share it. You should take the time to watch the interview or read the article. It not Coach Jones’s final quote is “People with special needs, you know, they give us more love than we can actually return.”
 Radio certainly provided a lot of love.
Longtime Hanna principal Sheila Hilton shared her memories:
 Life is full of ironies. One would think that most high schools have at least one famous student who has brought great recognition to the institution. Maybe it is a student who graduated from Harvard, maybe one who won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism, maybe a famous professional football player. T. L. Hanna has had all of these, but none can come close to their most famous “student.” James “Radio” Kennedy, a 73-year-old, mentally challenged man, showed up on football field in the mid-1960s and has been an integral part of the school ever since. At that time, he was a teenager, with a transistor radio seemingly attached to his ear, who could barely speak and had never learned to read or write. He was nicknamed “Radio” by the coaches and players. He became a fixture at football practices, standing passively and watching, until one day when he began to mimic the coaches’ signals and tried his hand at yelling out commands. At that point, he could have been labeled a distraction and sent away. But he was not. The coaches embraced him, and as coaches came and went, someone would always take over in caring for him. Eventually, Harold Jones took the job and has been his “daddy” ever since.
 Generations of Hanna students and faculty had an opportunity to know Radio. Everyone has a story to tell, some of them priceless — his eating a cooler full of sandwiches that had been made for the team and stored safely on the bus; his pass-kick-and-throw half-time shows; his permanent status as a junior, with no threat of graduation; and his astounding ability to name the mascot of any team in the state. The stories could fill the pages of a lengthy book, each showing the child-like innocence and loving heart that existed within him.
 It would be easy to talk about all the school did for Radio, but the miraculous thing about this story is what Radio did for the school. It is perhaps a lesson of which all of us need to be reminded. Because he was embraced by caring people, he was stimulated to learn. Because he was loved, he found his place in the world. Because people looked past his disabilities and imperfections, he found a way to make his own unique contribution to the world. What a lesson there is to be learned here. How many lost souls could be saved with a little care and attention? The thousands of students who have made their way through the halls of T. L. Hanna over the years have seen the results of the love and caring given to Radio. He had a permanent smile on his face. He was never without his ability to shake hands and hug necks. He returned exponentially whatever love was given to him. And here the irony rests. He gave back much more than he received.
 In our small town of Anderson, SC, Sports Illustrated, Readers’ Digest, ESPN, CBS News, and even Hollywood have told his story, one about a disabled child in a grocery cart riding the hills behind the old McCants, arguably the most famous person to come out of Anderson.
 It was destiny that he arrived on that football field some fifty years ago. He was without a Harvard degree or Pulitzer Prize or professional football contract, but his fame surpassed all of these accolades. And the story is simple: love and compassion can change lives. It has changed his, and, in return, he has changed ours, and we are better people for having known him.
Mark Hamrick is a former Furman University athlete who was a high school basketball referee when he met Radio.  
I was saddened to learn of the death of James "Radio" Kennedy. He was a kind and pleasant man who shared happiness with many during his lifetime. I first met "Radio" back in the late 1980's while officiating basketball at T.L.Hanna High School in Anderson,S.C. That was a few years before Hollywood discovered him.
During my first assignment there, "Radio" met me with a big smile and the key to the dressing room. He asked me what else I would need and he seemed disappointed when I answered, nothing. So I told him that some water would be great. During my years as a basketball official I never asked for anything extra at a high school or small college assignment because I appreciated that most of them had tight budgets that certainly did not include funds for basketball official extras.
However, on that night I soon realized that we were operating by "Radio" rules, so after a brief discussion we decided, or more accurately "Radio" decided, that I would get a Snickers candy bar with my water. After that night I never again spoke of a candy bar to "Radio".
Over the next few basketball seasons I worked several T.L. Hanna games. On many of those nights "Radio" met me with a big smile, the key to the dressing room and a promise to return with MY water and MY Snickers. As the years passed and I moved on from high school officiating I left probably owing T.L.Hanna for more than a dozen candy bars thanks to the persistent generosity of "Radio". I should write them a reimbursement check in memory of "Radio" but instead this one last time I will play by "Radio" rules and just remember the times that I shared with those candy bars and "Radio".
His laugh, his kindness and his happy approach to life serve as a memory of one of the good guys. James "Radio" Kennedy will be missed.

Anderson honored Radio with a statue in 2006

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Fringe benefits of an 8-team college football playoff

 Occasionally, I wake up and feel like a sports columnist. Let me try to make the case for an expanded college football playoff. 
 1. You know you'd watch. 
 2. Why do we have a four-team playoff? Because the folks who designed it knew they could never get eight approved. They assumed that once they gave us a flawed four-team playoff, we would demand more.
 3. In an eight-team playoff, the winners of the Power 5 conferences would get automatic bids. Not only would each team controls its own fate (regardless of committee opinions), but there would be so many fringe benefits. It would no longer be necessary to run up the score to impress the committee. And it could do wonders for non-conference scheduling. Teams like Baylor wouldn't need cupcake schedules. If you can get into the playoff by winning your conference, then there's no penalty for risking defeat with ambitious non-conference schedules. For instance, Baylor could have played Oregon this year, just for fun, without dire implications other than green and yellow stains on our TV screens. 
 4. The September schedule would be so much better. Clemson might play Georgia, Auburn, or Tennessee instead of Charlotte. Why not, as long as the Tigers know they can qualify for the playoff by winning the Sisters of the ACC?
5. To the previous point, Oregon would be in the playoff picture today if they hadn't gone out of their way to play Auburn in the opener. If the Ducks had played South Dakota (like Oklahoma did) instead of Auburn, they would have one loss today, and both the O's would be circling Georgia like vultures.
6. Yes, the season is too long already. So cut the fall schedule to 11 games and play the FCS games (Clemson-Furman, for example) in the spring, instead of a split-squad scrimmage. (To make it more equitable, you could even let the FCS team play its graduating seniors, and give them a last audition for pro scouts.) That way, the big boys still have seven home dates, to keep the local motels and tailgaters happy. 
7. Play the quarterfinals at the home fields of the top seeds, maybe on Thanksgiving weekend. No more embarrassingly empty upper decks like we saw in the 49ers stadium for last night's Pac-12 game. 
8. In the spirit of inclusion, its hard to argue against offering a playoff invitation to the best of the Group of 5 champions. As proud as I am of what Appalachian State has accomplished this year, I don't know that beating North Carolina and South Carolina qualifies you to compete with Clemson. But Central Florida and Boise State have risen to that level, so make room for them.
9. Some naysayers worry that in an eight-team playoff, a bottom seed might get hot and win an undeserved title. Quarterfinal home games would make that unlikely, but if it happened, you know you'd watch.
 10. It would be okay if Alabama got in. Most of you are convinced they don't deserve to be in the playoff, so you'd watch just to see them lose. 
11. Play the semifinals the Saturday after Christmas and the national championship in the vacant week before the Super Bowl. Yep, you know you'd watch.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hiking the rooftops of the Carolinas

My long-awaited arrival at the summit of Mount Guyot (Photo by Peter Barr)
 Ten years ago, I had never heard of a county highpoint. I had climbed a few mountains that were the highest in their counties, but I didn't appreciate that distinction until I started registering my mountain climbs into an online database called Peakbagger.com. Then to my surprise, Peakbagger started to list me on computer-generated rankings of "county highpointers."
 Before 2009, nobody had completed all the county highpoints of North Carolina nor South Carolina. That piqued my competitive instincts, so in 2010 I began seriously pursuing the county highpoints of my home states. It took me over nine years to reach them all. 
 In 2014, I was able to finish South Carolina's 46 counties along with Charlie Zerphey, a fellow highpointer from Pennsylvania. By then, I had had climbed to the top of 33 of North Carolina's 100 counties, and Charlie and I realized we had a chance to become the first hikers to complete all 146 county highpoints in both Carolinas.
Green counties indicate a completed state.
Yellow marks my other county highpoints.
Pink indicates counties on my wish list.

Dark green is my home county, Watauga.
 The most challenging one, I knew, would be Haywood County, where Mount Guyot is one of the most remote peaks in the Southeast. In 2014, when Charlie was 84, he surpassed me when he climbed Guyot with the Highpointers Club
 In 2017, Charlie and I slogged to an island in the Great Dismal Swamp that enabled him to claim Pasquotank County and complete the 100 county highpoints of North Carolina. That left me with two county highpoints to climb—Guyot plus an obscure ridge on the Cherokee County line that I reached in 2018 for #99.
 Mount Guyot is named for a 19th-century Princeton professor who was the first to survey many of our Southern mountains. Arnold Guyot was Swiss, so pronounce it GHEE-oh. Guyot stands 6,621 feet above sea level and about 4,400 feet above the parking lot at Cosby Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 
 A Charlotte attorney named Henry Pharr joined me Sept. 20 to climb Guyot. This would be my final North Carolina county highpoint and Henry's 99th. His 100th will be a sand dune on Ocracoke Island, which is not accessible right now because of damage from Hurricane Dorian.
 The 18-mile roundtrip would be the longest hike of my life. The trail doesn't even go all the way to the top of the mountain—the last half-mile is a bushwhack through a dense balsam forest that smells like Christmas trees. 
I was honored that Peter Barr hiked with me.
 Henry and I started up the Snake Den Trail at dawn and hoped to get to the summit by 1 p.m., but I was slow, and it was 4 o'clock before we made it to the top. Along the way, we were joined by Peter Barr from Skyland and Zachary Robbins from Carrboro. Peter first climbed Mount Guyot when he through-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2000. In 2015, he became the second hiker to complete the North Carolina county highpoints. I am the fourth, also joining state park ranger Brian Bockhahn in 2009 and Charlie Zerphey in 2017. Henry will become the fifth, once Ocracoke reopens.
 We celebrated my landmark with some photos. I brought a North Carolina flag, and Peter led a recitation of the North Carolina state toast, just as one of his friends had done on his completion day. My favorite line says: "Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great, here's to 'Down Home,' the Old North State."
 Because I was so slow up the hill, we realized we would have to finish in the dark. Under the glow of our headlamps, Peter spotted a couple of snakes on the way down the Snake Den Trail, but they didn't bother us. Henry and I finished about 10 p.m., 15 hours after we started walking.
With Peter Barr and Henry Pharr on the Snake Den Trail, approaching the Appalachian Trail (photo by Zach Robbins)
 If you are interested in pursuing the county highpoints of North Carolina, here is a list that includes my trip reports. (You may have to create a Peakbagger account to read the trip reports.)
 To complete the list, you will visit four national parks, nine state parks, three national forests, three cemeteries, Fort Bragg, an abandoned prison, 11 communication towers, and three water towers. More than half of the highpoints are on private land. If you aspire to be a county highpointer, you'll need to get comfortable approaching strangers and asking them to restrain their dogs while you explore their backyards. 
 In many of the eastern counties (and at least one place in the mountains) you have to visit multiple sites to be sure you have reached the highest ground. One of the most maddening was Edgecombe County, where the USGS topographical maps identified over 30 locations around the town of Rocky Mount that might be the highpoint. I used more modern and precise GPS maps to eliminate two-thirds of those.
 On the other hand, you get double credit when you climb some peaks that are on the county borders. Grandfather Mountain's Calloway Peak is the highest point in Watauga and Caldwell counties, and Standing Indian is highest in Macon and Clay counties. 
 In case you are wondering, the lowest of North Carolina's county highpoints is a pine plantation in Tyrrell County that is only 17 feet above Albemarle Sound. 
 Peter asked me, "Now that you've completed North Carolina, what's next?" Having finished the state where I was born and the state where I now live, I don't have any desire to try to complete any others. I have 268 county highpoints nationally, and I'd like to get to 315, which would represent 10 percent of the nation. The ones marked pink on the map above are among the counties on my wish list. 
 Next year, I may take on another Peakbagger category, peaks with 2,000 feet of prominence. I've climbed all 11 of those in North Carolina, and I need two more in Tennessee (Big Frog Mountain and English Mountain) and one in Virginia (Elliott Knob) to complete the Southeastern "P2Ks." Mercifully, those hikes are just 8 to 12 miles.

Here's where you can find the county high-points of North Carolina:

National Parks
  • Blue Ridge Parkway: Jackson (Richland Balsam), Transylvania (Chestnut Bald), McDowell (Blue Ridge Pinnacle), Henderson (Little Pisgah), Wilkes (Thompkins Knob).
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Swain (Clingman's Dome), Haywood (Mount Guyot)
  • Wright Brothers National Monument: Dare (Kill Devil Hill)
  • Cape Hatteras National Seashore: Hyde
National Forests
  • Pisgah National Forest: Mitchell (Roan High Knob), Buncombe (Potato Knob), Avery (Grassy Ridge Bald).
  • Nantahala National Forest: Graham (Huckleberry Knob), Cherokee (County Corner).
  • Uwharrie National Forest: Montgomery (Dark Mountain).
Other Federal land 
  • Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: Pasquotank
  • Federal Aviation Administration: Rutherford (Sugarloaf Mountain)
  • Fort Bragg: Cumberland
State Parks
  • Grandfather Mountain State Park: Watauga (Calloway Peak), Caldwell (Calloway Peak)
  • Mount Mitchell State Park: Yancey (Mount Mitchell)
  • Elk Knob State Park: Ashe (The Peak)
  • Hanging Rock State Park: Stokes (Moores Knob)
  • Crowders Mountain State Park: Gaston (The Pinnacle of Kings Mountain)
  • Morrow Mountain State Park: Stanly (Morrow Mountain)
  • Occoneechee State Natural Area: Orange (Occoneechee Mountain)
  • Great Dismal Swamp State Park: Camden
  • Jockeys Ridge State Park: Secondary location in Dare County (Jockey's Ridge)
Other state facilities
  • Hoke Correctional Instititution: Hoke
Nature Conservancy
  • Secondary location in Dare County (Nags Head Woods)

Communications Towers
  • Alleghany (Catherine Knob)
  • Surry (Fisher Peak)
  • Polk (Tryon Peak)
  • Cleveland (Benn Knob)
  • Iredell (Fox Mountain)
  • Randolph (Shepherd Mountain)
  • Rowan (Youngs Mountain)
  • Rockingham
  • Alamance (Cane Creek Mountain)
  • Chatham
  • Harnett (Big Ridge)

Water towers
  • Person (Roxboro Hill)
  • Secondary locations in Harnett, Moore
  • Richmond (Parsons Cemetery)
  • Columbus (Meadow Cemetery)
  • Secondary location in Tyrrell (West Cemetery)
Private land (listed highest to lowest): Madison (Sandymush Bald), Burke (Long Arm Mountain), Alexander (Hickory Knob), Catawba (Baker Mountain), Yadkin (Click benchmark), Lincoln (Buffalo Knob), Davidson (High Rock Mountain), Forsyth, Rockingham secondary location, Davie, Guilford, Alamance (Cane Creek Mountains), Cabarrus, Mecklenburg, Caswell (Stony Creek Mountain), Union, Chatham, Durham (Red Mountain), Granville, Anson (Gordon Mountain), Lee, Wake, Scotland, Warren, Halifax, Northampton, Johnston, Nash, Wilson, Robeson, Sampson, Wayne, Bladen, Duplin, Lenoir, Edgecombe, Greene, Pitt, Jones, Pender, Onslow, Bertie, Hertford, Martin, Gates, Brunswick, Currituck, Beaufort, Craven, Chowan, Perquimans, Pamlico, Washington, Carteret, Tyrrell.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Family tree: I'm the king of wishful thinking

George II at age 44 (portrait by Charles Jervas)—see the resemblance?
 When you start researching your family tree, you never know what secrets you might find. Ancestry.com tells me that England's King George II may have been my seventh great-grandfather.
George II was the grandfather of George III, whose reign is remembered for the American Revolution. He's the one who unwittingly wrote in his diary on July 4, 1776: "Nothing important happened today."
The lineage goes through my mother's mother, Macie Sherard (1887-1973), daughter of Charles McLaren Sherard (1858-1894) son of James Wiley Sherard (1828-1910), son of Phoebe Hardin Buchanan (1798-1872), daughter of Mary Pack (1775-1837), daughter of Joseph Carroll Pack (1748-1827). Joseph Pack was supposedly the son of the Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765), the son (or perhaps the brother) of King George II (1683-1760).
Here, the documentation is weak, and we may be on the brink of wishful thinking. The duke, William Augustus Hanover, was unlikely to ever reach the throne, and he got involved with a commoner, Mary Anne Packard. Their son supposedly took his surname from his mother and became Joseph Carroll Pack. He settled in the Carolinas in 1770 with royal land grants from his cousin (or uncle), King George III.
Ancestry.com has a 1976 manuscript called Children, Meet Your Ancestors written by one of my Mississippi cousins named Genevieve Broome Jones (1900-1985). Mrs. Jones spent years trying to track down the Pack branch of her family tree, until a relative in Columbia, S.C., shared a story that supposedly came from a book called England's Turbulent Eighteenth Century, by the acclaimed English author, James Boswell. As far as I can tell, no such book exists. Boswell did write a similar title called The Ominous Years 1774-1776, but it does not contain the passage that Mrs. Jones quotes:
 Then in 1760, George III, twenty-five years old, handsome and well-educated, came to the throne. There was great rejoicing. He felt himself English, and had shaken off the Hanover ties. He was resolved to be a good English ruler. But the rejoicing was short-lived. King George III was a vacillator between generosity to those in his favor and vices of a despot with others.
 (Then an example of despotism is given.)
 On the other hand, he lavishly doled out grants of land in America for colonization. One of the adventurers who got grants was a favorite cousin, Joseph, son of William, brother of the king's grandfather George II. Unlike other members of the royal family, William was tremendously attracted to English customs and living: to the point that he married an English commoner, Mary Anne Packard, who was Joseph's mother.
 Since Joseph was not in the royal line, upon receipt of a grant of land in Carolinas of the America by the king, adopted a portion of his mother's maiden name, Pack, as his surname. Over and beyond this generosity, the king financed the journey to America and the expenses of Joseph's first year in America. 
Mrs. Jones acknowledged that she could not be certain that her ancestor Joseph Pack, who settled in South Carolina in 1770, was the same person mentioned in the royal family. "My skepticism arises from the fact that no living Pack descendant that I have met ever had any inkling of any royal ancestry. Why? Was Joseph so ashamed of it that it was never told to any of his children? If any one of his twelve children ever heard of it, surely some hint of it would have come down as family tradition."
Joseph Pack's grave at Paxville Baptist Church
 Pack may have become estranged from his royal family, considering that he enlisted in the S.C. Militia at the end of the American Revolution, where he might have fought against his cousin's army. 
Also, some sources say that the Duke never married. If that's the case, maybe Miss Packard was his mistress, which also might explain why Joseph never told his children where they came from.
 Joseph Pack received two grants in the Camden District and two more in the Sumter District, where he is buried in a town called Paxville. He also received grants on the Tyger River and Enoree River, which would seem to indicate Greenville or Spartanburg County in upstate South Carolina. In fact, there are Pack families in northern Greenville, and I once owned a couple of acres there on a scenic ridge called Packs Mountain.
If George II is indeed my seventh great-grandfather, then I am also a descendant of King James I, known for the King James Bible.
 There is also a chance that my link should go through George I rather than II, since Mrs. Jones' account (and the 1982 clipping below) describes the Duke as the brother (rather than the son) of George II. 
The following clipping is from the Sumter Daily Item in 1982:

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The shady side of my family tree

Cousin Lizzie Borden with her mom, who died when Lizzie was three
 I've been working with my mother to assemble our family tree, and as I've rummaged through ancestry.com, I've found some notorious skeletons in our family closets.
 It appears that Lizzie Borden is my seventh cousin, five generations removed. Lizzie was acquitted of murdering her stepmother and father with an hatchet in 1892. 
 Lizzie's sixth great-grandfather and my 11th uncle, Thomas Cornell Jr., was convicted of burning his mother in 1673, based on second-hand testimony from his mother's spirit.
The History Channel connected the dots between Borden and Cornell in a 2018 show.
You may be familiar with Lizzie from the old folk rhyme: 
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty one.
Lizzie was a 32-year-old spinster in Fall River, Massachusetts, who was accused of murdering her father, a wealthy casket maker named Andrew Jackson Borden, and her stepmother, Abby Durfee Gray. 
On Aug. 4, 1892, Lizzie alerted the family maid to her father's mutilated body. He had been hit 10 or 11 times with a hatchet-like weapon while sleeping on the sofa. Her stepmother was found in the family guest rooom and had been struck 18 or 19 times. 
Lizzie was arrested, gave contradictory statements to police, and was indicted for murder. At her trial in 1893, she fainted when her parents' crushed skulls were presented as evidence, and she was acquitted in just 10 minutes by a jury of 12 men. She lived until 1927, dying at age 67.
At least she didn't have to face the spectral testimony of her mother, like Thomas Cornell Jr. Born in England, he was 46 years old and his wife Sarah was expecting their third child when his mother, Rebecca, burned to death in the family home on Acquidneck Island, Rhode Island. 
According to an account published by the New England Historical Society: 
 On the night of February 8, 1673, Thomas Cornell rushed into the sitting room where he had earlier left his mother Rebecca Cornell. On the floor he found a body, badly burned. He suspected he'd found a drunken Indian who had fallen into the fire.
 But as he rushed close, he declared: "Oh, Lord! It is my mother!" And so began the strange case of the murder of Rebecca Cornell.
 The Cornells were a well-respected family in Portsmouth, R.I. Thomas and Rebecca, originally from England, ran an inn in Boston. They left Massachusetts in the wake of Ann Hutchinson's expulsion for her religious beliefs. The Cornells sympathized with the more tolerant society Roger Williams was creating in Rhode Island.
 Thomas Sr. died in 1655. Both Thomas Cornells, senior and junior, were well-regarded citizens, serving public office. By 1673, Rebecca had entrusted her estate to her son Thomas.
 On the day she died, Thomas spent more than an hour talking with his mother in her sitting room. Then he was called to dinner. The evening dinner was salt mackerel, which Rebecca did not eat. She said it made her dry in the night.
 Thomas sent his son Edward to ask Rebecca if she wanted boiled milk or some other supper. As Edward tried to rouse his grandmother, he was alarmed by a dog bounding from the sitting room. Something was amiss and Edward ran to fetch a candle and raise an alarm. When Thomas returned to the sitting room with Edward, he found the body on the floor.
 Kneeling down, Thomas first tried some Indian phrases to communicate with the injured person. On closer inspection he recognized his mother. The first coroner’s inquest was quick and to the point. Rebecca Cornell had died in a fire. She had probably fallen asleep, dropped ash from her pipe on herself and burned to death. But four days after the death, Rebecca's brother John gave a strange testimony.
 He was asleep in bed when "he felt something heave up the bedclothes twice, and thought somebody had been coming to bed to him, where upon he awaked, and turned himself about in his bed, and being turned, he perceived a light in the room, like to the dawning of the day, and plainly saw the shape and appearance of a woman standing by his bedside where at he was much affrighted, and cried out, 'in the name of God what art thou?'
 The apparition answered, 'I am your sister Cornell,' and twice said, 'see how I was burnt with fire.' And she plainly appeared unto him to be very much burnt about the shoulders, face, and head."
 The vision reinvigorated the investigation. Rebecca's brother interpreted the vision to mean that his sister accused someone of burning her intentionally. Rebecca's body was inspected a second time, and this jury found a suspicious wound in her stomach. A new version of events began to take shape, and Thomas Cornell was charged with murdering his mother.
 At trial, witnesses painted an unpleasant picture of life in the Cornell home. Rebecca Cornell had complained about her treatment. She had to work on the farm. She went to bed without her bed made up or warmed. And she complained that Thomas was skimpy in heating the home and would not provide a good fire.
 Her son declined to hire a maid to look after her. And she and Thomas argued over whether rent should be paid for staying at the house and whether he should pay her or vice versa.
 Rebecca Cornell, two witnesses testified, had contemplated killing herself, either by stabbing herself or drowning herself. Further, she had told some, she planned to leave Thomas' house and move in with her son Samuel in the spring. Of particular concern to Rebecca: Thomas' second wife, Sarah, who she disliked.
 Patience Coggeshall testified: "She was afraid there would be mischief done. Her daughter-in-law was of such a desperate spirit, for not long since, said she, she ran after one of the children of his first wife, with an Axe, into her house; but she prevented her striking the child. Yet she did not live with any of her other children because she had made over her estate to her son Thomas. If she had thought her son Thomas first wife would have died before her, she would not have made it over to him."
Meanwhile, other witnesses questioned Thomas' story about his mother refusing mackerel, charging that she had been known to eat it.  John Pierce suggested Thomas Cornell was glad his mother was gone. He testified: "Thomas Cornell said that his Mother in her life time had a desire to have a good fire, and further said, that he thought God had answered her ends, for now she had it."
 The jury convicted Thomas Cornell of murdering his mother with virtually no evidence that he had done so. Two years after he died, his widow Sarah was charged with assisting in the murder, along with a local Indian, though she was not convicted and the case of Rebecca Cornell caused the people of Rhode Island to debate whether spectral evidence should be used in criminal cases at all.
 Thomas Cornell Jr. was convicted and hanged in 1673, shortly after his wife gave birth to a daughter named Innocent, who married into the Borden family.
 This branch of our family tree is not without honor. Thomas Cornell Sr., my 12th great-grandfather, is the ancestor for a number of prominent Americans, including Bill Gates and Edith Stuyvestant Dresser (who married George Vanderbilt and became matron of the Biltmore House), presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon, the first ladies of James Monroe and Grover Cleveland, aviator Amelia Earhart, Declaration of Independence signer William Ellery of Rhode Island, and Ezra Cornell, who gave the original endowment for Cornell University.
 I'm indebted to my co-worker (and newfound cousin) Terry Harmon for much of this information. Terry also pointed out that on the family tree of English clergyman William Eddy (1550-1616), Lizzie was the sixth cousin of George Stoneman, the namesake for my Civil War newspaper, The Stoneman Gazette. That tree also includes Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and actress Jane Fonda.
If ancestry.com is correct, I am descended from Thomas Cornell Sr. (1593-1655) and his wife Rebecca Briggs (1600-1673), their daughter Rebecca Cornell Woolsey (1629-1713), her daughter Sarah Woolsey (1650-1727), her son Joseph Josiah Hallett (1678-1750), his son Samuel Hallett (1722-1796), his daughter Jemima Bruce (1759-1846), her son David Moore (1770-1830, the first to settle in South Carolina), his son Alfred Moore (1799-1877), his daughter Mary Alice Moore (1860-1943), her daughter Minnie Barnette Clark (1883-1971), her daughter Essie Layton (1904-1972), and her son Dwight Layton (1928-2017). I am aware of a couple of weak links in that lineage. 

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Highpointing in the footsteps of George Washington

Green states are the ones where Charlie Zerphey has reached the highest point in every county. Yellow and blue are others where he climbed the county highpoint. 

 After George Washington was inaugurated in 1789 as the first president of the United States, he decided to visit each of the 13 original states in an effort to unify the new nation and to become better acquainted with regional leaders and issues. 
Washington's 1791 Southern Tour
In the spring of 1791, at the spry age of 59, the Father of our Country boarded a cream-colored horse-drawn carriage and embarked south from Mount Vernon headed for Richmond, Va., and the Dismal Swamp in N.C. before spending a week in Charleston, S.C. By mid-May he had reached Savannah, Ga., and he returned via Augusta, Ga.; Columbia and Camden, S.C.; Charlotte, Salisbury, Salem, and Guilford Court House, N.C.; and Halifax and Fredericksburg, Va. (Suffice to say, the government survived without him, under the stewardship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.)
I was reminded of Washington's Southern Tour when I thought about the hiking trips I've made in recent years with Charlie Zerphey, who was born on Washington's 198th birthday in 1930, and now has unified the original 13 states in a way that no other hiker has ever done.
After Charlie retired as a printer in Lancaster, Pa. (another place Washington visited on July 4, 1791**), he decided to try to climb the highest points in all 50 states. He reached all of them except Alaska, and he got halfway up Denali before other members of his team turned back. Content with that, he got a license plate that says "49HIPTS."
Along the way, Charlie also discovered the related sport of county high-pointing, where the goal is to find and reach the highest point in each county. He completed the counties of Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island in 2001, Pennsylvania in 2003, New Jersey in 2004, Maine and New Hampshire in 2005, Massachusetts and Maryland in 2006, and New York and West Virginia in 2009. There's no telling how many miles he's driven—certainly more than the 1,900 miles that Washington traveled. 

Our paths first crossed in 2011, when we were both interested in climbing Beartown Mountain in Russell County, Va., which Charlie needed to complete Virginia. It took two trips, but we finally made in in 2012, thanks to Rick Shortt. 
Then we teamed up in 2012 to complete South Carolina and 2015 when he finished North Carolina*. The last N.C. counties Charlie needed were two islands in the Great Dismal Swamp, where slaves under Washington's supervision once dug drainage canals. Again, our first effort failed because of high water, but on the second try we made it. Our hike to the Pasquotank County high point was nearly 8 miles roundtrip with a net gain in elevation of 9 feet.
 After that, I challenged Charlie to complete Georgia so he would become the first person to complete the county highpoints in all 13 original states. Georgia is no easy task, with 159 counties—more than any other state except Texas. 
 In recent years, we've explored the Georgia mountains, then Charlie spent close to a month seeking the highest natural ground in the flat counties of eastern and southern Georgia. On Feb. 28, I had the privilege of hiking with him as he completed his quest on an obscure hill in Upson County known as Dorster Mountain.
 At age 89, Charlie has reached 975 county highpoints, so his next goal is 1,000, which has been accomplished by only 10 men. The national leader is a Michigan man named Bob Schwab who has summited 2,361 of the nation's 3,142 counties. It is unlikely that anyone will ever complete the national map, because several of the county highpoints are on ranches where hikers are not welcome.
With 16 states completed (including Maine, Vermont, and West Virginia, which were not among the original 13), Charlie ranks third nationally behind Arizona's Bob Packard, 28 states (mostly in the West and Northeast), and Schwab, 27 states (mostly in the Midwest and Northeast).

* COMPLETING N.C.: My county high-point map pales in comparison to Charlie's, though I did complete North Carolina on Sept. 20, 2019.  
** PAPA GEORGE: It was in Lancaster, Pa., in a German almanac published in 1799, that Washington received the nickhame, "Father of His Country."
Charlie Zerphey atop Lookout Mountain, the highest point in Walker County, Ga. On the horizon to the left is John's Mountain in Floyd County, one of our most challenging hikes in Georgia.