History for Lunch

Shown is the entry about the founding of the Elizabeth City Normal School — the forerunner of Elizabeth City State University — on March 3, 1891 in the new book, “This Day in North Carolina History.”

Looking for the right gift for a history buff?

The book “This Day in North Carolina History” may be the answer.

The book by co-authors Ansley Herring Wegner of the North Carolina Office of Archives and Jeff Miles matches the calendar to important events in the state. There are anywhere from one to four entries for each date.

The book evolved from a blog of the same name that ran from 2012-16 on The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources website. Wegner contributed to the blog and new content was added each year over the span of four years. But Wegner soon started to run out of material.

So, the only option left was to turn the blog material into a book, Wegner said during the Museum of the Albemarle’s virtual “History for Lunch” program Wednesday.

“It highlights so many interesting things that we have in North Carolina,” Wegner said.

The book features stories of famous athletes, musicians, artists, notable landmarks, politicians, military heroes, murderers and other historical and famous people.

“Lots of cool musicians to talk about,” Wegner said.

But stories about Mt. Olive Pickles, Bojangles, Cheerwine, Pepsi-Cola, Krispy Kreme and Vicks Vapor Rub are also included as the 384-page book is also loaded with information on food, drink and other products that are part of the state’s history.

“We have a lot of cool things that were developed in North Carolina,” Wegner said. “Bojangles and Pepsi are they biggest, most shared things we ever do. People love to tell stories of having Vicks Vapor Rub rubbed on them to treat something. It’s fun to think about them being developed here in North Carolina.”

Notable events, people and places from Elizabeth City and the surrounding region are featured well over a dozen times in the book.

“For anyone studying North Carolina history, it would be a great book,” said MOA Educator Lori Meads.

One of the more notable local historical events in the book recognizes the beginnings of what is now Elizabeth City State University.

The opening paragraph of the entry reads, “On March 3, 1891, legislation passed creating a Normal and Industrial School in Elizabeth City. The school was founded with the express purpose of teaching and training teachers of the colored race to teach in the common schools of North Carolina.”

The entry then states: “The bill began in the House of Representatives and was championed by Hugh Cale, an African American who represented Pasquotank County. Cale, who was a free person of color before the Civil War, had been involved in African American education immediately following the Civil War and served on the Pasquotank County Board of Education.”

And of course, the mystery of Nell Cropsey made the cut for Nov. 21.

On Nov. 21, 1901, Nell Cropsey, disappeared from the front porch of her family home near the Elizabeth City waterfront.

“The case grabbed national media attention, making newspaper headlines up and down the east coast,” Wegner and Miles write in the book. “The night Nell disappeared she had broken up with her boyfriend of three years, Jim Wilcox. After spending the evening together in the parlor with her sister Ollie and her boyfriend, the couple stepped onto the front porch and into legend.

“Wilcox maintained that he left Nell there on the porch after she broke up with him. Nell never returned to the house and was found in the Pasquotank River 37 days later.”

Wilcox was later convicted of the crime but received a pardon from the governor.

And no book on the state’s history would be complete without mentioning soybean oil and Elizabeth City’s contribution to the product.

“On December 13, 1915, the Elizabeth City Oil and Fertilizer Company repurposed equipment to generate the nation’s first commercially-processed soybean oil,” Wegner and Miles write in the book. “The modified machine was originally designed to produce cottonseed oil and cotton by-products.”

Compiling the text for the book was the easy part since most of the history had been posted on the blog. But getting photographs to go with the stories chronicling the state’s history was another story.

After an exhaustive 18-month effort that included research, emails and phone calls, Wegner was able to come up with 600 images for the book. But getting the needed images is not what Wegener is most proud of.

“I paid a total of $98.74 for the (600) images,” Wegner said. “I’m kind of proud of that.”

The book is available at Museum of the Albemarle’s gift shop and online.