What balladeer and mother of five children was killed in the infamous 1929 Gastonia textile strike? What Hertford County inventor produced the first machine-gun? What NC university town boasts a medieval castle that headquarters a century-old secret society? Where and when did NC’s Good Roads Campaign begin? What geographical area of NC is a breeding ground for songbirds returning from the Caribbean and South America? If you couldn’t answer these questions, here’s an easy freebie any dad-gum Yankee can probably guess: What nutritious delicacy derived from hominy did NC chef Bill Neal mix with shrimp and include in his Southern Cooking cookbook? GRITS, of course!
Longtime residents of the Old North State as well as newcomers will be intrigued by the 1314-page Encyclopedia of North Carolina, edited by William S. Powell, Professor of History at UNC-Chapel Hill for decades. This encyclopedia represents many years of Powell’s own research as well as the efforts of over 500 volunteer contributors.
Powell, long ago dubbed the dean of NC history, has created a work for both the dilettante as well as scholar. On a whim, the reader may flip through this bulky tome and discover our state’s insect is the honeybee as well as the existence of the Man Will Never Fly Memorial Society, an organization that meets annually, drinks freely, and presents “anti-aviation” awards (Many of its members are pilots). A serious Civil War historian will also find ten pages that exhaustively list, locate, and describe all military installations in the state during that conflict. But who knew the first recorded “mooning” was in 1776 when a Cherokee Indian revealed more than his disrespect to Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford while on an expedition against his tribe? That same reader may also be astonished that over a hundred windmills along NC’s coastline once ground corn or pumped water.
During an idle hour of skimming through Powell’s tome, browsers will often times laugh but just as frequently reread an intriguing entry just to ascertain they understand its significance. On occasion, they may be tempted to dog-ear a page to show a friend later. So how about the answers to those initial questions? Labor organizer and balladeer Ella Mae Wiggins was killed during the Gastonia strike. The five men accused of the crime were not convicted. Richard Jordan Gatling patented his weapon in 1862, and the Gatling gun was first used by Union forces in Richmond, VA, in 1863. Ghostly Gimghoul Castle–adjacent to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus–was completed in 1926 by stonemasons from Valdese and continues as the meeting site of a mysterious secret society. The Good Roads Campaign began in 1899 in Asheville. The Great Dismal Swamp provides a breeding ground for all those songbirds. Ain’t all this something!
The Encyclopedia of North Carolina is a reference book many may desire to have in their homes, but it is a godsend to school and public libraries. (Incidently, the first NC public library was established in the town of Bath in 1701).
4 out of 4 Stars
Reviewed By: Mike Shinn, Academic Learning Center/Disability Services