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 -- http://bit.ly/oLVA0 -- 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 (www.virtualtourist.com), 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 http://hereiswhere.org.

The book subtitled “Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History” got this blurb on amazon.com: “ ‘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 hereiswhere.org 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: www.ncapplefestival.org.

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: www.matthewsalive.org.