Federal Point History through Artifacts from the Cape Fear Museum

by Nancy Gadzuk

Jan Davidson, Historian at the Cape Fear Museum, was the featured speaker at the May 21, 2018 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

Jan talked about the history of Federal Point and Fort Fisher as depicted by some of the artifacts housed at the Cape Fear Museum.

Pictures of these early artifacts included a number of different styles of Civil War Confederate flags as well as General Whiting’s uniform and sword: Whiting switched sides and joined the Confederacy, taking the time to re-carve and alter the “U.S.” on his sword handle to read “C.S.” for the Confederate States.

She talked about the evolution of the four phases of Fort Fisher: as a battle site, a memorial site, a World War II site, and a state historic site.

As a state historic site, the 150th anniversary and re-enactment of the Battle for Fort Fisher in 2015 acknowledged sacrifices on both sides while focusing on the notion that there was “glory enough for all” in this attack. By focusing on glory, the real issues could be glossed over: that slavery was a real cause of the war and that slaves did not have happy lives.

Many of the artifacts Jan shared from more recent times overlapped or duplicated the excellent collection of beach memorabilia that Elaine Henson has shared with the History Center. The Museum even houses a urinal from Carolina Beach’s Ocean Plaza. (Leslie Bright would be able to speak to the origin of that donation.)

To me, the most interesting part of Jan’s presentation was her account of the transformation of the Cape Fear Museum over time. The Cape Fear Museum is the oldest history museum in North Carolina. It was founded in 1898 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to venerate and honor the Confederacy, and operated out of one room in the Light Infantry’s building.

Until the 1930’s, the museum moved all around Wilmington and even found its collection stored in Raleigh for a while when it couldn’t find a home in Wilmington. When the museum re-opened in the 1930’s, it took a much broader historical focus than it had in 1898. In the 1970’s, the focus broadened again to incorporate the region’s history, science, arts, and cultures to tell more balanced and inclusive stories about the area. This broader focus is reflected in its current name, the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science.

The majority of its collections are in storage as there is not room to display everything. This led to a discussion of Project Grace, a potential collaborative effort between New Hanover County, the public library, Cape Fear Museum, and private investors.

Through this project, the Museum would evolve yet again and become part of a cultural-commercial hub in downtown Wilmington, where the main library is located now. How Project Grace shakes out and shapes up is still to be determined and it will be interesting to follow its progress as it moves forward.

Sharing our histories and stories involves not only looking backward, but looking forward—and being willing and able to change with the times. There was much to learn from Jan’s presentation on how an institution can do that well.

 

The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck

By Nancy Gadzuk

Keith Holland spoke on The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck at the January 15, 2018 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. The transport ship Maple Leaf sank in Florida’s St. Johns River in 1864, carrying over 400 tons of cargo. Keith spoke on the efforts to find and preserve some of the artifacts from that shipwreck.

The first thing that struck me about Keith’s presentation was his obsession with shipwrecks. After scuba diving in Myrtle Beach and finding a brass spigot from a shipwreck there, he was determined to find a shipwreck near his home in Florida. He’d rather find, he said, a square cut hand-hewn nail than a 10-carat diamond in his search. His research showed that there was probably a yet-unidentified wreck in the St. Johns River, and he spent close to 10 years and an undisclosed, but large, amount of money to form St. Johns Archeological Expeditions and find it.

This led to the discovery of the Maple Leaf, a Civil War cargo ship sunk in 20 feet of muddy sludge and carrying 400 tons of stores. The muck provided an oxygen-free environment and excellent preservation of the ship’s artifacts. Keith and his dive team brought up many artifacts in 1989, which are now under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida. The Maple Leaf Site became a National Historic Landmark in 1994.

The Maple Leaf was a transport carrier and carried the ordinary baggage of at least three regiments. It’s the most important repository of Civil War artifacts in existence and, to me at least, a fascinating window into the minds and lives of the men whose possessions were preserved. What does a soldier carry with him when going to war? What personal reminders of home and life does he bring?

Keith shared pictures of some of the finds: teacups, diaries, letters, chess pieces, a pocket watch, seashells. This collection of the ordinary pieces of lives lived and lost serves as a powerful reminder that there is no such thing as a “civil” war. Keith observed that while the war affected the North, it destroyed the South. He dedicated a montage of photographic images and song to the women left behind in war.

At the end of the formal presentation, Gil Burnett and Skippy Winner, both long-time History Center members, shared briefly a few of their own experiences finding underwater artifacts.

 

Keith prepared a video presentation to accompany his talk. Several of these resources were used in the presentation:

The Maple Leaf: A Civil War Shipwreck
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbQw6eJg59o

The Tide: The Thrill of Discovery
https://firstcoastmagazine.com/news/the-tide-the-thrill-of-discovery/

The Mandarin Museum: Maple Leaf
http://www.mandarinmuseum.net/mandarin-history/maple-leaf

Florida Frontiers: The Maple Leaf
https://myfloridahistory.org/frontiers/article/65

Tanya Binford: Crossing the Wake

By Nancy Gadzuk

Tanya Binford, author of Crossing the Wake: One woman’s Great Loop Adventure spoke at the August 21, 2017 meeting of the History Center. She talked about her experiences traveling the 5,000 mile Great Loop Cruise Route around the eastern United States in a 25-foot Ranger tug motor boat. Alone.

Usually I take copious notes during our History Center meetings, but Tanya’s presentation was so spellbinding all I could do was listen with my mouth open in awe. Fortunately, Tanya also wrote a fascinating memoir to provide backup for the notes I didn’t take, and I recommend reading Crossing the Wake for an in-depth look at her trip.

Tanya dreamed of learning to sail, even though she spent most of her life in Arizona. She didn’t want to wait until she was able to retire to pursue her dream.

“Sometimes we have to make the adventure,” she said. At the age of 45, she decided to take a year off when she turned 50 to pursue the dream. Fortunately, she had a job she could do from anywhere that had a good Internet connection. She drew a line on a map from her home in Arizona due east and it led to Southport, North Carolina.

Once in Southport, she made every mistake a beginning boater could make, bought several boats that weren’t right for her, realized sailing was too difficult to do solo, and finally ended up with a 25 foot ranger tug motor boat.

She decided to travel America’s Great Loop Cruise Route, through the Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. Approximately 100 boats make the loop each year, but most of them are much, much larger than hers, and very few people make the trip solo.

One of the frightening parts of her presentation was her description of going through close to 100 locks on the canal system along the route, where she was surrounded by much larger commercial vessels in a tight-fitting trough of moving water. She frequently needed to be in two places at the same time, holding a line on one side of the boat while doing something on the other.

Any long boat trip requires time, money, and energy for boat repairs. At one point, Tanya limped into a marina for a needed engine repair. (An impeller, whatever that is.) Tanya was working with Bob, the marina owner, on the repair and she was trying to get a bolt attached somewhere on the engine.

Bob asked what was taking her so long, and she yelled from under the engine, “I’m screwing as hard as I can! Can’t you feel it?”

There was silence until Bob said, “I’ve never had a woman say that to me before,” and they both burst out laughing.

A sense of humor is also useful for any adventure.

 

August Meeting, Crossing the Wake

The Federal Point Historic Preservation Society will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, August 21, 7:30 p.m. at the Federal Point History Center, 1121-A North Lake Park Blvd., adjacent to Carolina Beach Town Hall.  

This month our speaker is author Tanya Binford. Her book Crossing the Wake is the story of how she walked away from her stable life into a voyage unknown – a solo six-month boating excursion circumnavigating the Eastern United States in a 25 foot Ranger Tug Boat.

As a single mom and a psychiatric nurse practitioner, Binford seemingly had little time for chasing dreams, but couldn’t shake her fiery urge to sail the Great Loop (a 5,000 mile journey looping through Atlantic Ocean waters, Great Lakes, rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico).

When her boat falls behind the group, she quickly finds herself out of her element, but not out for the count. Now as the first lone woman on the Great Loop expedition, Tanya’s journey becomes internal as she discovers her strength and independence.

Crossing the Wake: One Woman’s Great Loop Adventure is both beacon of hope and an emotionally transformative tale anyone eager to test their own strength will enjoy. A motivating read guaranteed to energize readers into pursuing their passions.

Author Tanya Binford grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She got married in her second year of college and dropped out when she was pregnant with her daughter at 19. Her son was born two years later. When her children were young, she lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. After a difficult ten year marriage, she divorced and went to nursing school to earn her associates degree in nursing.

After becoming a nurse, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she lived for the next 14 years. During that time, she obtained her advanced degree and became a psychiatric nurse practitioner, working in public mental health. For ten years, she practiced as a nurse practitioner in Nogales, AZ, the later years through tele-psychiatry, out of her home in North Carolina.

At 51, she took a year off work to fulfill her dream of circumnavigating the Great Loop cruise route.


StarNews:  Southport resident travels 5,000 miles solo in 25-foot boat

 

 

Your Genetic Heritage: DNA Testing

By Nancy Gadzuk

Jennifer Daugherty, Special Collections Librarian for the New Hanover County Public Library, spoke on Your Genetic Heritage at the July 17, 2017 meeting of the History Center.

Jennifer explained that while some DNA testing can determine paternal lineage (y-DNA testing) and some maternal lineage (mitochondrial DNA testing), most DNA testing is autosomal. Autosomes are the chromosomes that do not determine sex, but determine the rest of a person’s genetic make-up.

She talked about three genealogical testing companies she has used. The companies – AncestryDNA, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA – all are creating databases using the DNA of people who purchase their companies’ DNA tests. These people may self-identify with an ethnicity based on their personal history.

This identification by ethnicity, while not strictly DNA-based, becomes part of a larger geographical and historical component of the overall genealogical profile.

The more people these companies can attract to DNA testing, the larger their databases will become. This leads to providing, among other things, more robust family trees for participating clients. AncestryDNA has the largest database of client DNA, with more than 1 million genetic samples.

Both AncestryDNA and 23andMe sell their clients’ data to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Family Tree DNA has said it will not sell client data.

Jennifer listed briefly some of the characteristics of the three companies she discussed as a summary to her presentation.

 

 

 

 

 

Chefs of the Coast: Restaurants and Recipes from the North Carolina Coast

By Nancy Gadzuk

John Batchelor, food critic and author of Chefs of the Coast, Restaurants and Recipes from the North Carolina Coast was the featured speaker at the May 2017 History Center meeting.

He spoke on his experiences as a restaurant reviewer for newspapers in both Winston-Salem and Greensboro and as a judge of restaurant cooking competitions throughout Western North Carolina.

These experiences led him to write first , Chefs of the Mountains with recipes and stories from some of the restaurants he’d visited there.

To some people (like me), John’s would be a dream job: sampling delicious food, hearing the chefs’ and restaurateurs’ stories of how they got into the business, learning at least some of their secrets and recipes, finding out where their ingredients come from, and compiling these experiences into a beautifully photographed collection to be shared with others.

Apparently John thought so too, and he began work on Chefs of the Coast. One of the things he learned in his first book was that refining recipes that are meant to serve fifty down to recipes that serve four is not so easy.

Based on feedback he’d gotten on his earlier book, he also knew readers wanted simpler recipes and that some relatively inexpensive restaurants needed to be included. Seventeen Wilmington and Southport restaurants are represented in the book, which leans heavily toward the Outer Banks.

He said the key to pulling everything together came from his interviews, where a line or two would stand out and inform the focus of the entire segment. For example, “If it’s white – rice, flour, sugar – don’t eat it,” is John’s own food mantra.

He acknowledged that many home cooks can prepare a meal that’s every bit as tasty as what a top chef prepares, but for two or four people rather than a restaurant full of people all wanting different meals.

John’s line that stood out for me was this: The traditional chef’s hat has one hundred folds in it, signifying that a good chef should be able to cook an egg one hundred different ways, from memory.

Bon appetit!

 

 

Cape Fear River Watch

By Nancy Gadzuk

Madi Polera, fisheries biologist with Cape Fear River Watch (CFRW), spoke at the February 20th meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Madi stepped in for Kemp Burdette, the Cape Fear Riverkeeper, when Kemp was unable to make the meeting.

Madi explained the mission of Cape Fear River Watch: To protect and improve the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River basin. The Cape Fear River basin is the largest in the state, covering more than 9000 square miles, with one-third of North Carolina’s population living within the area.

The environmental and economic importance of the Cape Fear River cannot be overstated. The river basin itself is home to a diverse variety of animal and plant life, including ancient bald cypress trees.

The river watershed is also home to more factory farms than any other watershed on the planet.

A major concern of CFRW—and it should be a concern to all of us in North Carolina, especially those of us who drink Cape Fear River water—is the proliferation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

The Cape Fear region has the highest density of CAFOs in the world. There are 9.8 million people in North Carolina, and 10 million hogs. Poultry production is also exploding.

Animal waste can and does cause significant pollution as run-off into river waters. Hog lagoons can be managed and monitored to minimize their impact, but poultry waste is not currently monitored by the state.

Madi acknowledged the need to balance the economic benefit to the state of CAFOs with the environmental impact of the animal waste. The battle is with pollution, not with farmers.

She also shared the recent success of the CFRW Fishing Restoration project to build a fish ladder or fish ramp on the Cape Fear River.

Migratory fish like striped bass and Atlantic sturgeon had not been able to migrate up the Cape Fear River naturally for more than 100 years until this fish ladder at Lock and Dam #1 on the Cape Fear River was completed.

Progress can happen with persistence and hard work.


Additional video resources:
YouTube videos of Cape Fear fish ladder

 

Eight Days Down The Cape Fear River

from Our State Magazine

…   After 170 miles of paddling, downtown Wilmington appears at the confluence of the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear rivers.

We ducked underneath a railroad bridge at Navassa as a large sightseeing boat was bearing down on us. “We love you, Kemp!” screamed a dozen women and girls onboard. Kemp shook his head and smiled. The captain was a friend of his, Kemp said. He wasn’t really that popular.

At 11:30, we paddled underneath another highway bridge at the mouth of the Northeast Cape Fear River, and suddenly we were downtown, passing a Coast Guard cutter and the Battleship North Carolina, waterfront parks, buildings, fountains, and cars. Men and women eating lunch at riverside restaurants watched us take stroke after stroke. Joggers glanced at us. Dogs sniffed in our direction. We sat up straight, and stuck out our chests. We paddled toward Dram Tree Park like runners entering a stadium at the end of a grueling marathon.

We turned left, just above the noisy Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, and pulled onto a ramp, where Cape Fear River Watch volunteers, friends, and onlookers greeted us. We walked up the street to Elijah’s for a big lunch and Endless River beer. It felt like our journey was over, even though we weren’t done just yet. “The worst part of the trip ending?” Chris said. “You don’t get to paddle the next day.”

As we walked, one of the onlookers stopped me. “How was the trip?” she asked.

It was like having a new job, I said. A good job. I got up in the morning, and got to work paddling. At the end of the day, I had dinner, relaxed, and went to bed. The next morning, I got up and did it again. It was simple. As simple as I dreamed it could be.

And with that, on the seventh day, we rested.

The last day of paddling was an afterthought. We had 26 miles to go, and the wind was at our backs, with a falling tide to push us. We’d reach the river’s end by lunchtime. We left Dram Tree Park at 5:30 a.m. with light boats, carrying just some water and snacks. We paddled into the blackness of the 42-foot-deep shipping channel and quickly encountered a container ship, the Maersk Wakayama, being guided by a tugboat to the mile-long State Port just south of downtown. We gave it a wide berth. The ship was almost the size of two football fields and its captain likely couldn’t see us.

The Cape Fear River was now an estuary, and as its water dried on our coats, it left behind a salty residue. The channel was a mile wide. We passed Island 13, a splinter of land bulked up by sand and dirt dredged from the riverbed. Ahead, the water disappeared into the horizon, under a blue sky flecked with high, pink clouds. Pelicans, ibis, and seagulls circled above us.

View images and read the full story of paddling 200 miles down the Cape Fear River at Our State Magazine.

 

World War I and its “Indescribable Desolation”

By Nancy Gadzuk

Jan Davidson, Historian at the Cape Fear Museum of History and Science, spoke at the January 16, 2017 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society.

Jan spoke on Service, Sacrifice, and Memorialization: New Hanover County Residents and World War I.

The United States entered World War I in 1917. The war was sold effectively to citizens as a fight for democracy, and colorful propaganda posters promised “Adventure and Action” while serving the country.

World War I was considered a total war that required mobilization on every front. Everything and everyone had to come together: mobilizing business, labor, finances, and, especially, mobilizing “Red Blooded Fighting Men Between 18 and 40.”

Wilmington became the biggest source of draftees in the region, with the majority of its draftees African American. Women were called to serve as nurses.

It was a terrible war, known for its “indescribable desolation” and killing its soldiers both in action and through disease, all the while setting the stage for World War II.

Those soldiers who did return did not come home unharmed. As one North Carolina returnee wrote from a psychiatric hospital, “We aren’t the same animals at all who left home.”

Wilmington’s World War I Memorial was first erected in 1922 to honor New Hanover County’s war dead. The monument was moved, restored, and rededicated along the downtown Riverwalk in 2014.

The following quote from the Roman poet Horace (born 65 B.C.) is inscribed on its base: “Dulce et Decorum est pro patria mori. ” This was a well-known rallying call during World War I, translating to: “It is sweet and proper to die for your country.”

Dulce et Decorum Est is also the name of the best known poem from the first World War, written by British soldier Wilfred Owen. Owen was killed in action in France one week before the Armistice.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.


Cape Fear Museum’s Historian Jan Davidson:  A Moving Monument – Wilmington’s World War I Memorial

 

The Ladies’ Memorial Association and the Civil War

By Nancy Gadzuk

Travis John Gilbert, manager of the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society’s Latimer House, spoke at the November 21, 2016 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Travis talked about the Ladies’ Memorial Association and the role of women during and after the Civil War.

The notion of a so-called “good death” vanished with the realities of the Civil War and that change translated into women’s roles, particularly Southern women’s roles, changing dramatically as well.

While Southern women were supposed to be protected and taken care of, the war presented a new reality.

The unprecedented casualty rate of the Civil War meant that almost everyone was mourning loved ones who died alone and far from home rather than in the comfort of their families’ arms, in an honorable or good death.

In 1865, nearly every family plot in Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery had a fresh grave. War beckoned the ladies from their homes and they tried to mitigate the overwhelming death and destruction of war by leading the city’s mourning process.

The Ladies’ Memorial Association formed to take good care of Confederate graves. They held benefits and the 19th century equivalent of bake sales to make money for their efforts. May 8, 1868, marked Wilmington’s first Confederate Memorial Day, held outside Oakdale Cemetery with “graceful flowering offerings.”

By 1872, the Ladies’ Memorial Association had constructed the Confederate Soldiers Mound in Oakdale Cemetery as they shaped Wilmington’s post-war rebirth.

This plaque dedicated to the Confederate dead lies at the base of the mound:

THIS MONUMENT WAS DEDICATED MAY 10, 1872 / TO PERPETUATE DEEDS OF THE BRAVE AND IN GRATEFUL / TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY OF 550 HONORED UNKNOWN / CONFEDERATE DEAD AT THE BATTLE OF FORT FISHER / WHO LIE BURIED HERE / SPONSORED BY THE LADIES MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION LATER MERGED WITH DAUGHTERS OF THE CONFEDERACY / SELF DENIAL – WORK – PRAYERS – TEARS – HEARTS BLOOD / ENTERED INTO ITS BUILDING

Under the auspices of flowers and community healing, the women of the confederacy became agents of local politics and power. Eventually this new gender strength and consciousness would find its way into the women’s suffrage movement, where these same elements would be crucial.

Self denial. Work. Prayers. Tears. Hearts blood.