Thursday, December 5, 2013

Britt's donuts of Carolina Beach high on national list

You may have come across directly if you're a foodie, or while poking around at, which reposts some of its articles. covers a wide range of  food- and drink-related subjects, from chefs and cookbooks to traditional food-related breaking news to food-related travel.

Its forte is lists: "10 Best College Football Stadium Eats," "7 Healthy Kids' Drinks," "11 Rum Cocktails for National Rum Day," etc., and one posted recently was "America's 25 Best Donuts."

No, N.C.-based Krispy Kreme didn't make this particular roster, though's "8 Decadent Donuts From Around the Country"  included KK's Key lime.

But the just-out top-donut list did have the plain glazed created at Britt's Donut Shop, in Carolina Beach, in  11th place.

It's an inspired choice, even if Britt's is open only during tourist season.

H.L. Britt's debuted in  1939. Britt sold the operation (and secret recipe) in the mid-1970s; the Nivens family has operated it since.

The glazed, airy  wonders cost 90 apiece in 2013; the shop usually opens for the season around Easter. Regular-season hours are 8 a.m. to around 10:30 p.m. Monday Saturday, with an early closing (4 p.m.) Sundays.

It's right on the Carolina Beach boardwalk, adding a  sweet and tasty morsel to North Carolina history.

The illustrious Oxford American magazine did a detailed and glowing feature on Britt's in its July 2012 issue. And on the Internet you'll find its fan club site.

You'll learn at the fan site that a book about the place , "Britt's Donuts: Forever Sweet," will be coming out in March.

And while you can't buy donuts at the site -- and the shop doesn't open until spring, remember -- you can pad your holiday gift list by ordering Britt's bumper stickers (starting at $2) or art prints (starting at $45). One of the stickers available from the fan site is shown at the top of this tale.

Of the top 25 on the "Best Donuts" list, only three are from the Southeast. Britt's is the only one from the Carolinas.

Here, by the way are the 10 ranked just above Britt's:

1              Doughnut Vault, Chicago (Plain glazed)
2              Round Rock Donuts, Round Rock, Texas (Plain glazed)
3              Dough, Brooklyn, N.Y. ( Lemon poppy)
4              Bouchon, Yountville Calif (Broiche with seasonal preserves)
5              Stan’s Doughnuts, Los Angeles (Peanut butter and banana)
6              Danny’s Donuts, Vista, Calif (Blueberry cake)
7              Verna’s Donut Shop, Cambridge, Mass. (Chocolate honey-dip)
8              Congdon’s Doughnuts, Wells, Maine (Blueberry jelly)
9              Federal Doughnuts, Philadelphia (Cookies and cream)
10           Donut Man, Glendora, Calif- (Fresh peach and strawberry)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Asheville's Grove Park, Poinsette in Greenville, S.C., named to historic hotels list

                                                  Grove Park Inn (N.C. Tourism photo)

Historic Hotels of America -- an official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation -- has added 21 more  hotels and resorts to its list. The list includes two noteworthy places in the Carolinas: Asheville's Grove Park Inn and The Poinsett, in Greenville, S.C. 

The program "Identifies quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance." Properties also must be at least 50 years old.

The full 2013 inductee list (and the date those properties opened):

American Empress, floating boutique hotels on the Pacific Northwest's Columbia and Snake rivers (19th century)
American Queen, a floating boutique hotel on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers (19th century)
Benbow Inn, Garberville, Calif.  (1926)
Hotel Lana’i, Lana’i City, Hawaii (1923)
Inn at Price Tower, Bartlesville, Okla. (1956)
Inn at Saratoga, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (1843)
Lake McDonald Lodge, Glacier National Park  (1913)
Ledges Hotel, Hawley, Pa. (1890)
Many Glacier Hotel, Glacier National Park (1915)
Mizpah Hotel, Tonopah, Nev. (1907)
 Moana Surfrider Westin Resort & Spa, Honolulu (1901)
Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, Carlsbad, Calif. (1963)
The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn Resort & Spa, Sonoma, Calif. (1928)
The Jefferson, Washington, D.C., Washington, D.C. (1923)
The Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville (1913)
The Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, Va. (1766)
The Sayre Mansion, Bethlehem, Pa. (1858)
The Talbott Hotel, Chicago, Ill. (1927)
The Westin Poinsett, Greenville, S.C., (1925)
Timberline Lodge, Timberline, Ore. (1937)
Tubac Golf Resort & Spa, Tubac, Ariz. (1789)

Places located in the Carolinas already on the full list::

The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte
Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst
The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill
Green Park Inn, Blowing Rock
Mast Farm Inn, Banner Elk
Haywood Park, Asheville
Old Edwards Inn & Spa, Highlands
Francis Marion Hotel, Charleston
Wentworth Mansion, Charleston
Kings Courtyard Inn, Charleston
John Rutledge House, Charleston

If you're familiar with any of these places, you'll get the drift: time-honored elegance.

While the aim of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is to save important buildings, having your property designated by Historic Hotels of America is also good for business: You can find links to all the hotels/inns/resorts 
at and use the "Destinations" link to open up a map showing where these places are located. Zoom in and you'll be able to find links to the individual properties, which are located from Honolulu (The Royal Hawaiian) to the New England coast  (Newagen Seaside Inn, in Southport, Maine); from on Michigan's Mackinac Island (Grand Hotel) to U.S.V.I. (The Buccaneer).

The list includes are more than 240 hotels in all.

If where you stay is an important aspect of where you go, you'll want to check the full lineup.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Enjoy the wild side of East Africa: Foreign Correspondence interview

Mark Wheeler, 42, is regional managing director for East Africa and South Asia for the luxury/safari travel firm andBeyond ( The British native has worked in adventure travel for about 20 years, and has been based in Nairobi, Kenya, for the last 3 1/2 years. AndBeyond holdings include lodges in South Africa, Botswana and India, tourism companies in Sri Lanka and Bhutan, and properties in Tanzania and Kenya.

Q. Does “adventure tourism” always mean “safaris”?

A. Safaris are a big part of what we do, particularly in East Africa. “Safari” is actually a Swahili word that means “to take a journey.” People usually think of being out in the savanna, seeing the big five – elephant, rhino, buffalo, leopard and lion – but there are other possibilities, like climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

Or – in Uganda and Rwanda – seeing the only wild population of mountain gorillas left in the world: 780. And there are places such as Gombe Stream and Mahale in Tanzania where you can also find chimps.

An integral part of the adventure experience is the cultural side. There are about 42 tribes in Kenya and approximately 120 in Tanzania. The most famous is the Masai, known for a strong cultural heritage they still maintain.

One of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in East Africa is Ngorongoro Crater, an old volcano caldera that forms a natural refuge for wildlife and offers a unique game-viewing experience.

And of course you’ve got some wonderful beaches on the East African coast, primarily around Zanzibar. You may have heard of our private island lodge called Mnemba.

Q. What’s the most popular draw?

A. The safari, which in East Africa is different from other areas of Africa. You can see the great wildebeest migration in Tanzania and Kenya between the Serengeti and the Masai Mara.

It’s year-round, but the best times would be in the southern Serengeti in January through March, with 1.5 to 2 million wildebeest and antelope following the grass that comes up after the rains. In the southern Serengeti, you see them giving birth at that time, normally over a month. From an evolutionary standpoint, this results in higher survival rates: If you have 600 baby wildebeest arriving at the same time, they are so numerous that predators are sated very quickly, and a higher percentage of wildebeests survive.

Also, July through September in the northern Serengeti and Masai Mara, you get to see river crossings, with 20,000 to 50,000 wildebeests crossing at the same time, with crocodiles taking some of them. The scale of wildlife is such that you won’t see anything like that anywhere in the world.
In August, we drove through a herd of about 600,000 individuals. At 15 mph, it took me 20 minutes of continuous driving to get from one side of the herd to the other.

(Note: Photo of wildebeest migration at the top of this post is by Anup Shah - Washington Post)

Q. What’s the most rare animal you’ve seen in the bush?

A. Probably something like the bat-eared fox or another nocturnal animal. In several of our East African camps we have our own private concessions on the reserves, so we are able to offer night drives, unlike in some of the national parks where (doing that) can be illegal. This allows us to spot some of these rare species, such as cerval cats or bat-eared fox.

Q. Give what you do, do you view animals differently?

A. I think you have greater respect by having seen some amazing interactions – such as a mother hippo rescuing a baby wildebeest from a crocodile during a river crossing, or male lions fighting for domination of a pride. Seeing nature at its rawest, basically. It’s a humbling experience.

There’s another side to this as well. We can visit various projects, like the giraffe center here in Nairobi. There are giraffes you can feed and interact with; this proximity gives you a different level of respect. Also, the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya’s Nairobi National Park. You can see and interact with orphaned elephants who have been rescued by the project. They come from all over the country, can be as young as 10 days old, and human custodians will feed them milk and care for them. This continues until they’re about 2 1/2 years old, when the elephants are able to care for themselves, and are released into the wild.

You realize how helpless they are without their mothers, and you gain a new appreciation for for some of the amazing animals in this part of the world.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Duffer deal in San Francisco for Panthers fans

Heading west to see the Carolina Panthers play the 49ers on Nov. 10? You may want to take in a round of golf before or after the game.

The TPC Harding Park --  site of the recent Charles Schwab Cup Championship -- is offering Panthers' fans a deal: 20 percent discount on a round of golf. With weekend rates ordinarily $175, they're giving you $35 off.

TPC Harding Park is a municipal course, co-owned by the city and county of San Francisco, in the county's southwest (Pacific) side.  The course's street address is 99 Harding Road. The TPC photo above gives you a preview.

The Panthers will play at Candlestick Park (490 Jamestown Ave,) on the county's southeast (bay-facing) side. The distance between them is 9 miles -- about 20 minutes.

The offer is valid Nov. 8 through Nov. 11.

To book, visit and use booking code NFL20.

Who knows? It could be a win-win weekend.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Meeting of travel club raises wine glasses to Normandy

The  Nov. 5 meeting of Charlotte's Magellan Travel Club offers a taste of France in more ways than one.

The 7 p.m. gathering will focus on Normandy, one of the most popular destinations in France. It is also one of the most timely, as two videos to be played at the meeting will show.

The first highlights the Chateau de Canisy which is nearly 1,000 years old: It was constructed during the days of William the Conqueror.

The second video is set at the American Cemetery at Normandy's Omaha Beach three days after the 9/11 attacks. It tells how the French government responded to what happened in the United States.

In June 2014, Normandy will honor the 70th anniversary of the invasion of D-Day. This particular celebration may be the last time that those who participated in that historic event will have an opportunity to revisit the site of their accomplishment.

So it's fitting that this Magellan meeting involve a wine tasting: It will be held at Total Wine, 5341 Ballantyne Commons Parkway  (in the Promenade on Providence shopping center).

Reservations are not required; there is no charge to attend and meetings are open to anyone with an interest in travel.

Club details: Contact Bob Taylor, at  704-906 6483 or e-mail:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A weekend in Fayetteville for holiday shopping -- and honoring veterans

Holly Day Fair

 Care to get a jump on the holiday shopping season? If you're heading over to Fayetteville Nov. 7-9, expect roughly 21,000 others at the Crown Expo Center for Holly Day Fair, one of the largest pre-holiday marketplace-style events in the Southeast.

It's staged by the Fayetteville Junior League, and the vendors are juried: Organizers say they select the 200 vendors with an eye toward creating an event that has appeal for all ages of shoppers (and all ages of people they're buying for) and which offers items not readily available in stores

Items include  holiday decorations, handmade crafts,  jewelry and clothes, children's toys and specialty food. (The photo at the top of this page, from the Fayetteville Area CVB, shows a previous Holly Day Fair.)

Admission is $9, at the door or, in advance, via Hours are noon to 8 p.m. Nov. 7, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 8-9 and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 10.

To avoid crowds, head there Nov. 7 -- a Thursday -- from 9 a.m. to noon. There's a price for getting an early look at this less congested time: Tickets are $13.

Heroes Homecoming

Note that  Nov. 8-11 is also the long Veterans Day weekend -- and Fayetteville, home of Fort Bragg, takes it seriously, with the third annual Heroes Homecoming.
 It begins Friday evening (Nov. 8) with a Candlelight Tribute at N.C. Veterans Park, followed by a an 8 p.m. screening of the final episode of the ever-popular TV show "M*A*S*H."
There's a 10 a.m. parade the following day.
Among the Nov. 10 events is a 3 p.m. meet-and-greet at N.C. Veterans Park with some of the people who starred in "M*A*S*H."

For details on Heroes Homecoming events:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Forecasting fall color? An every-fall hassle

It never fails: Every year when late summer temperatures are in the 80s in Charlotte and the forests of Quebec are utterly green, editors here start to whisper, "What are the leaves like? Are they turning?"

These hard-working people don't get out much.

The first leaf story this year was published Sept. 7.

The Observer's Sunday Travel pages, which go online the Friday before at, offers weekly foliage updates. They kicked in the weekend of Sept. 29 this year, with leaves being "Prime/Peak Now" in parts of Ontario, Quebec, Minnesota, Maine and New Hampshire.

How did I know what leaves are like elsewhere? I called the tourism people at these and other provinces and states.

 And in the weeks that follow, I touch base weekly with every state as far south as Virginia -- and with 15 tourism organizations in Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina. Updates continue through Oct. 27.

Some states have remarkable prognostication tools: Click to their leaf page, select the dates and  you'll know  how the following week is shaping up, leaf-wise.

The biggest hassle is having to call tourism people at state and provincial agencies to ask, "How are the leaves going to be next week?"

"Well, it depends on where you are."

Yes, I know.

"And it varies from year to year."

Yes, I know.

"And it depends on elevatiion."

Yes, I know.

"And the temperature and other stuff."

Yes, I know.

"So it's kind of hard to say."

We're only looking for "Prime/Peak Now," "Prime/Peak Soon" or "Coming Later" status: Pick one. We're not doing an investigative piece about their mother's pancreas nor asking where they buy their lottery tickets. We're looking for an educated guess, for pity's sake.

The last resort is to say, "Will you just look out your window?"

Wednesday after Wednesday.

The tourism people in the Carolinas are easier to deal with, possibly because they don't have the large staff turnovers that often afflict state agencies. There's little song and dance about what I seek. Over the years of doing this, they've become leaf-line lean-ons.

"Oh, hi!" one told me the first time I called this year. "When October rolls around, I knew you'd be calling. How's the headache this Wednesday?"

These people, from North Wilkesboro to Brevard, Mars Hill to Marion to Oconee County, S.C., are glad I call: It helps reduce the number of calls they get from people wanting to know how the leaves are.

Observer colleague Steve Lytle runs a leaf update that publishes Fridays in the Observer; a main source for his what's-turning information is Appalachian State professor Howard Neufeld, an authority on leaf coloration. Neufeld, in fact, was featured in the Observer's Sci-Tech pages on Oct. 14.

(You can scroll up to the top and see a photo of Neufeld published with the Sci-Tech interview.)

That said, Neufeld is in the leaf-changing business: While he might honestly report that leaves are at "peak" right now atop Mount Whatever, leaves might still be still utterly green down down the slope at the county seat.

Elevation certainly complicates when "peak" is in season in Western North Carolina. On the other hand, the great variance in any county's elevation makes for additional leaf-peeping weekends there.

Try your hand at what I do Wednesdays in October.

Got a friend in Burnsville? Hendersonville? Forest City? Call and ask how the leaves are likely to look next week.

If he or she says, "Well, it depends on where you are..." just cut to the leaf chase and say, "Will you just look out the window?"

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The joys of a long, leisurely drive

There's an upside to the transportation technology that allows travel on demand: You can be just about anywhere you wish, when you want. But there's also a drawback: Things you'll miss -- things you might have seen had you made your trip a more old-fashioned way.

Sept. 27, I flew out of CLT at 6 a.m. and by 4 p.m., was sitting in Madison, Wis., at the University of Wisconsin's Memorial Union terrace, with a mug in my hand and Lake Mendota in my view... after having brunch in Milwaukee, and then stopping at a state park en route to Madison.
Two days later, after making side trips to Mukwanago and Edgerton, and tooling around Madison and Milwaukee, I was back in Charlotte.

It was fun. It was also fun-in-a-flash.

In contrast, I made a similar trip in July that took 10 days. Sure, there was more time at my assorted destinations in Wisconsin, but there was also the plus of simply making the drive.

With kids now grown, flying somewhere is easier and less expensive than it was when family travel required mountains of suitcases and additional tickets.  Back then, we would just drive.

This July's drive -- I-77 North to Charleston, W.Va.; northwest on U.S. 35 to cross the Ohio River at Point Pleasant, W.Va., and on to Dayton, Ohio; then Interstates to Wisconsin -- was a slow-motion visual treat. Along the way, I enjoyed

* the morning fog that wrapped I-77 in Virginia, and which parted on occasion to reveal stunning valley views.

* stopping for lunch in Nitro, W.Va., at the Biscuit World, where the sign advertised the "Politician Biscuit"...  made of baloney.

* the rolling hill country of southeast Ohio, which I'd never seen before.

* the amazing growth of wind farms, notably between Indianapolis and Chicago, where 600-some turbines lined both sides of  I-65. An out-the-window shot is at the top of this page. (The sprawling facility, Meadow Lake Wind Farm, has its own page on wikipedia).

* downtown Elgin, Ill -- far enough west of Chicago to sport a picturesque downtown, but close enough to the metropolis to lure slickers to the Grand Victoria Casino boat permanently moored on the Fox River.

There were also serious things to view. Since 2011, Wisconsin has been in the throes of political turmoil not that different from what North Carolina has experienced since the 2012 elections. After two years, the acrimony among Badger citizens is visible on bumper stickers, yard signs (both hand-out and home-made) and -- on the Capitol grounds in Madison -- official signage.

If time is not an issue, I'll always prefer driving to flying. You see the country closer.

After all, car windows are so large and windows on a jet are so small.


Friday, September 13, 2013

In praise of oddball attractions

Let's take a moment to consider what you probably didn't see on your summer vacation.

Fodor's has released a list of "20 Oddball Roadside Attractions in the U.S." -- it's at
-- and the compilation is interesting in several respects:

1. Two of the places are in North Carolina.

2. Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder.

2. Over the years I've actually see several of these site, including the gigantic, walk-in muskie that holds the fishing hall of fame in Hayward, Wis. An image from the hall is below. Tourist photos are better because they usually show someone's Aunt Gertie waving from the the balcony that doubles as the muskie's lower jaw.

Here's the full list:

Carhenge, Alliance, Neb.
Fields of the Wood Bible Park, Murphy
Beer Can House, Houston
Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, Wilson
Insectropolis, Toms River, N.J.
Leila's Hair Museum, Independence, Mo.
Leaning Tower of Niles, Niles, Ill.
World's Biggest Bat, Louisville, Ky.
World's Largest Buffalo, Jamestown, N.D.
World's Smallest Church, Oneida, N.Y.
Home of Superman, Metropolis, Ill.
Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard, Waterbury, Conn.
Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, Hayward, Wis.
London Bridge, Lake Havasu City, Ariz.
Shoe House, Hellam, Pa.
Coral Castle, Homestead, Fla.
Mitchell Corn Palace, Mitchell, S.D.
SPAM Museum, Austin, Minn.
Fake Prado Store, Marfa, Texas
International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell, N.M.

3. There are many  things in this country that are much more odd.

Especially in the Carolinas.

I'm sure you have an idea of where some of those places may be. Email your picks to me at - maybe we can make a story out of your suggestions

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Will the real 'Magic City' please sit down (maybe on 'the world's largest chair')?

An old friend -- a New York-based music writer -- recently said his fieldwork had just taken him to Magic City.

I emailed him, "Enjoy yourself in Minot, North Dakota!"

I had known he was rooting around for stories in Nashville, Tenn., but was also aware that Minot (rhymes with WHY-not) claims that "Magic City" honor. Minot, population 41,000, is about an hour from the Bottineau School of Forestry, and has a derby skating team called the Mouse City Rollers. It acquired the "Magic City' nickname when the Great Northern Railroad came through in the 1880s, leaving in its wake a tent city that suddenly appeared as if by magic. Out of nowhere and into what many may term nowhere.

"Magic City" is also used to refer to Birmingham, Ala.; Leadville, Colo.; Miami; Gary, Ind.; Middlesboro, Ky.; Millinocket, Maine; Moberly, Mo.; Billings, Mont.; Barberton, Ohio; and Roanoke, Va.

Cheyenne, Wyo., limits itself to being "The Magic City of the Plains," while Colon, Mich., goes a step farther, as "The Magic Capital of the World."

The Wikipedia page listing municipal monikers -- -- doesn't name Nashville, also known as Music City, as Magic City.

 Before you get too smug, be aware that the list also has a bevy of "Queen City" burgs. We are not alone.

The bottom line is that civic nicknames only go so far when it comes to accuracy.

One that does is just up the way: Thomasville is billed as "Chair City" in honor of its furniture-making prowess, and in fact it boasts of having "the largest chair in the world":  It's 18 feet tall, 10.5 feet wide, and sits on a 12-foot base. You'll find it at the intersection of Main Street and N.C. 109. (The photo of it above was taken by Chris Seward, a photographer with our "City of Oaks" sister publication, The News & Observer.)

Taking an Amtrak ride toward Raleigh, the view of the chair is blocked by a magnolia; southbound toward Charlotte, you call see it on your right. Can't miss it.

It'll be just after the train goes through High Point ("Furniture Capital of the World").

Thursday, August 15, 2013

A contest, a list... and The Skunk Train

We receive shoals of press release -- many useless, some unintentionally humorous, a handful that are quite helpful... and a bucket or two (in all these categories) that are read just because they have some sort of list.

People are captivated by rankings, whether done by experts or ordinary folks.

Like all incoming PR, the lists are sent in by agencies, companies or individuals who want to get their name out there.

We'll post lists on this blog from time to time, and will start with this one from Virtual Tourist (, a travel-community website whose comments and reviews are penned by its members.

Virtual Tourist is a bit different for three reasons: It indeed started as a community project (at the University of Buffalo); though now owned by Expedia, it's clearly more an experiment in social media than a a profit center; it gets publicity through its ever-expanding array of  top-10 lists.

What are pushing now? An "8th Wonder of the World" competition: June 3 through Sept. 28, people are encouraged to weigh on on which listed destination should win the honor.

There are a little more than 300 from which to choose. Nominees range from the expected (Yellowstone National Park, Stonehenge) to the odd (Stew Leonard's, a business in Connecticut that is supposedly "The Disneyland of Dairy Stores"; the "largest Bass Pro Shop in the World," in Springfield, Mo.).

Attractions that have gotten on the ballot are, in turn, touting their presence on the list -- looking for votes.

The end effect, of course, is to drive more travel fans to the virtualtourist site. The winner will be announced in October.

Take a look at the nominees -- you'll see some familiar places from our area. Among them:

Biltmore Estate, in Asheville
Brookgreen Gardens, in Murrells Inlet, S.C. (above; Sun-News photo by Charles Slade)
Crabtree Falls, on the Blue Ridge Parkway
Franklin Street, in Chapel Hill
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Liberty Bridge, in Greenville, S.C.
Lumber River, near Lumberton
N.C. Zoo, in Asheboro
Rockingham County, N.C.

P.S.: If you're rooting/voting for a nominee close to home, be aware that the Skunk Train of Fort Bragg (shown below) isn't in the Carolinas: It's in Fort Bragg, Calif.

Monday, August 12, 2013

'Great Forgotten History' at a glance and on the road

“Here is Where,” by Andrew Carroll ($25; Crown/Archetype) has had quite a good run on the bestseller charts, gotten him on a variety of talk shows and started an online mini-movement at

The book subtitled “Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History” got this blurb on “ ‘Here is Where’ chronicles Andrew Carroll’s eye-opening – and at times hilarious – journey across America to find and explore unmarked historic sites where extraordinary moments occurred and remarkable individuals once lived.” An appraisal from Publishers Weekly notes, “Part travelogue, part history, this book should be required for anyone interested in America’s past.” It is very well-written – an assortment of appetizers that makes for great casual reading. You can open the book at random and stumble into a compelling narrative.

Still, the very nature of the book makes it hard to act upon: The incidents covered tend to be obscure – you really need to have an abiding interest in a specific, little-known event to get you to reach for your car keys. And what you may want to see may no longer exist: There are physical reasons why some people and places in the book have truly been forgotten.

That said, “Here is Where” is quite a fun read, and – Who knows? – something you read may prompt you to make a quick pit stop if you’re ever near where a choice incident is set.

Some stops would be quite arduous.

A series of linked tales – 28 pages in two chapters, midway through – deals with the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed millions while World War I was raging. In telling about this medical disaster, Carroll visits tiny Sublette, Kan., where a rural doctor was the first to note the outbreak in the U.S.; Carroll visits Dr. Loring Miner’s house, the cemetery 30 miles away where his flu patients were buried – and then Breving Mission, an isolated Alaskan village where in 1951 a pathologist exhumed Spanish flu victims from the permafrost: Enough corpse tissue remained to reconstruct the influenza’s gene sequence and successfully re-grow the virus!

What’s close to where you live? Mepkin Abbey, just north of Charleston. It’s a peaceful spot to visit: a working Trappist abbey on the grounds of what was once the summer home of Henry Luce, the founder of the Time-Life publishing empire. The abbey earns its forgotten-history designation, however, because it’s also the resting spot of an even earlier owner, Henry Laurens (1723-1792), a notable South Carolinian active in the American Revolution. Here’s what did the trick for Carroll: Laurens seems to have been the first European-American to request that his corpse be cremated!

Carroll’s is a project that encourages volunteers to “find and spotlight unmarked historic sites throughout the United States. The goal is to preserve those sites and get them marked.

In June, Carroll came to North Carolina for a plaque dedication in Franklinton, a small town northeast of Raleigh, off I-84. On the website, he notes this about his visit to the Cutchins Funeral Home: “On June 10, 1946, Jack Johnson (the first African-American heavyweight boxing champion of the world) was denied service at a diner in North Carolina, drove off in a rage, and hit a telephone pole in Franklinton. He died before getting to the hospital, and the local African-American funeral home (now called Cutchins) transported his body. Special thanks to Joseph Cutchins Jr. for letting me erect the plaque at his funeral home.”

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Labor Day getaways

Memorial Day getaways? It’s often seems they just happen. But Labor Day weekend is something else: With summer about to expire, you want to wrap it up with a flourish.

 Here are two tried-and-true escapes not far from home.

N .C. Apple Festival, Aug. 30-Sept. 2, downtown Hendersonville. (N.C. Apple Festival photo). The cooler temperatures and lower-humidity of the southern Blue Ridge is great for summer vacationers - and for apples. Henderson County is about as far south as you'll find commercial orchards in seaboard states. North Carolina ranks seventh nationally in apple production, and 65 percent of the harvest is from the 20-some orchards in Henderson County. We're talking red delicious, Rome beauty, Granny Smith, Stayman, Fuji and gala as well as newer and heritage varieties. The harvest is celebrated at the annual N.C. Apple Festival, a nine-block stretch of Main Street in downtown Hendersonville, with more than 200 vendors, arts and crafts, street fair, displays, competitions and the King Apple Parade (2:30 p.m. Labor Day – Sept. 2). Details:

Matthews Alive Festival, Aug. 30-Sept. 2. (Photo by Todd Sumlin, Charlotte Observer) We’re talking small-town-style charm not that far from anywhere in metro Charlotte: 6-10 p.m. Aug. 30, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Aug. 31, noon-9 p.m. Aug. 31 and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Labor Day. It’s focused at downtown Matthews’ Stumptown Park, between McDowell and John streets, on Matthews’ Trade Street. (An arts and crafts component at the nearby Cultural Center has shorter hours and is open Saturday-Monday only.) Carnival rides? You bet. Buy single tickets ($1) a sheet of them (20 for $15) or – for Friday only – a ride-all-night wristband ($14). Performing live on the main stage are The Embers (beach music stalwarts) at 8:30 p.m. Aug. 30; Bostyx (a Boston-Styx tribute band that includes David Victor of Boston)) at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31; and Restless Heart (country) at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 1. There’s more music – and entertainers that range from magicians to jugglers to belly dancers – at other times, every day except Friday (Aug. 30). The parade? It’s Saturday, and starts at 10:30 a.m. Details: