Asheville Fascist and Presidential Candidate William Dudley Pelley

On July 30, 1965, American fascist and anti-Semite William Dudley Pelley died. A writer, novelist and screenwriter from Massachusetts, he turned to politics and religion after a near-death experience and the Great Depression.

He spent the 1930s in Asheville where he developed his “Liberation Theology,” a combination of elements of Christianity, fascism, nationalism, theocracy and socialism. In Asheville, he established Galahad Press, through which he published his radical magazine New Liberator. In 1932, he founded Galahad College where he further promoted his political and economic theories.

In 1933, Pelley founded the Silver Legion of America, better known as the “Silver Shirts,” an organization modeled on Hitler’s Brown Shirts. He ran for president in 1936 as a candidate of the Christian Party.

Convicted of fraud in North Carolina, Pelley moved to Indiana in 1940. Arrested in 1942 and charged with sedition and treason, he spent the rest of the 1940s in federal prison. After his release in 1952, he lived the rest of his life in Noblesville, Ind., developing and publishing on another religious philosophy called “Soulcraft,” which was based on UFOs and later on his reported contact with souls of famous historical figures.

NCSU Alumni Should Recognize D.H. Hill’s Name

On July 31, 1924, noted academic Daniel Harvey Hill, Jr. died.

Born in Davidson in January 1859 and named after his father, D.H. Hill, a Confederate general, Hill earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Davidson College and spent time teaching at Georgia Military College before joining the first faculty at what’s now N.C. State University as an English professor in 1889. He would stay on at the Raleigh university for 29 years.

At N.C. State, Hill was instrumental in helping the budding college grow. In addition to his duties on the English faculty, Hill worked as the college’s bursar, bookkeeper and secretary of the faculty. He helped begin the library at N.C. State and served as the school’s first librarian on a part-time basis for 10 years.

Hill was elected N.C. State’s vice president in 1905 and served as its president from 1908 to1916.

An active writer and historian, Hill penned the North Carolina volume for the 1899 series Confederate Military History. He went on to write history books for young people, a textbook on agriculture and a two-volume history of North Carolina during the Civil War.

The D. H. Hill Library, the main library on the N.C. State campus, is named in his honor.

Lowe’s and Homegrown Home Improvement

On August 1, 1952, Lowe’s Home Improvement was incorporated.

The chain can trace its roots to 1921 when I. S. Lowe founded a hardware store in North Wilkesboro. His son, Jim Lowe, and son-in-law, Carl Buchan, took over the store after his death, but the two disagreed on whether or not to expand the business, and Buchan ultimately bought out Lowe.

Buchan recognized the post-World War II building boom that was coming to the county, and narrowed Lowe’s focus to selling only hardware, appliances and building materials (at the time hardware stores tending to sell a lot of general merchandise). He quickly tied the company’s reputation to low prices, buying products directly from manufacturers and operating on very slim profit margins to keep costs.

Buchan’s model took off, and by 1960, Lowe’s had 15 stores and $30 million in annual sales. The company continued to grow quickly in the 1960s and 70s by focusing on selling primarily to contractors. After a new chairman took over in 1978, the hardware chain began marketing directly to the general public.

Still based in North Carolina, Lowe’s is one of the nation’s 50 largest companies, according to Fortune. It operates nearly 2,000 stores across the United States and Canada, and had revenues of more than $52 billion in 2014.

Legendary Percy Flowers, “King of the Moonshiners”

On August 2, 1958, the Saturday Evening Post profiled Percy Flowers of Johnston County, labeling him the “King of the Moonshiners.” Throughout his career, Flowers managed to stay just out of reach of the law and developed a reputation as a local Robin Hood.

Born in 1903, Flowers grew corn and tobacco on his nearly 5,000 acres, like many others in region did. Unlike most others, he began to use some of his corn for making illegal liquor, concealing the stills and spirits in his tobacco barns.

Flowers’ first brush with the law came in 1935 when he and his brothers assaulted a federal treasury agent. His brothers served time for the incident, but Flowers was sprung after only three days when a judge stayed his sentence. His attorney argued that 22 sharecropper families were dependent on Flowers for their livelihood.

A bigger bust came in 1957 when agents searched and padlocked his store, seizing his safe and its contents which reputedly included large amounts of cash. The jury deadlocked over the charges but the judge found Flowers guilty of contempt for publicly berating another agent in the courthouse lobby. Six months in the federal penitentiary followed, the longest sentence he faced.

Flowers farmed well into the 1970s, and he died in 1982.

Bearded Lady, Featured in Freaks, at Circuses

On August 3, 1940, an article about Wilmington native Lady Olga, considered by many to be the world’s greatest bearded lady, was published in The New Yorker.

The profile, written by literary journalist Joseph Mitchell, himself a native North Carolinian, recounted with a sweet solemnity Lady Olga’s life from her birth as Jane Barnell in 1871 in the Port City. Barnell had a tragic childhood. She was sold by her mother to a passing circus at a young age before ending up in an orphanage.

Retrieved by her father and sent to live with her grandmother in Mecklenburg County, she met a man there who convinced her to grow her beard once again and join the circus. So, at age 21, she became Lady Olga. Though she was popular in the circus, it wasn’t until she played a bearded lady in Tod Browning’s infamous film Freaks in 1932 that she gained wider recognition.

The New Yorker article articulated the often conflicting feelings that Barnell had about her long career in circuses, carnivals and fairs, and detailed Barnell’s opinion of sideshows.

Mitchell recounted the story of Barnell’s life simply, and his powerful prose leads the reader to know, as Lady Olga knows, that the real freaks are not those standing behind the curtain, but those watching from in front of the curtain.

Lady Olga’s last circus performance was with the Ringling Brothers in New York City in 1938, though she continued making public appearances until her death in 1951.

James Dobbin of Fayetteville, Secretary of the Navy

On August 4, 1857, Secretary of the Navy James Dobbin died.

Born in 1814 in Fayetteville, Dobbin entered the University of North Carolina at age 14 and graduated with honors in 1832. He returned to Fayetteville where he studied law, launched his law practice and became active in local politics.

Unwittingly nominated for Congress and ultimately elected to the body in 1844, Dobbin refused to run again 1846. He later served in the General Assembly, rising to become the speaker of the House in 1850.

Influential in the nomination and election of Franklin Pierce, Dobbin was awarded with an appointment as the Secretary of the Navy. He worked to reform and expand the Navy, making it a more efficient and effective military branch.

As a firm believer in a strong Navy as insurance for peace, Dobbin put 18 ships, including six steam-powered frigates, into service during his tenure. He supported exploratory voyages, including Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition to Japan, which resulted in an 1854 trade treaty with that country.

The four years that Dobbin spent as Secretary of the Navy took a heavy toll on his fragile health. He died just five months after leaving office and is buried in Fayetteville.

The USS Dobbin, named in his honor, was damaged at Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack.

Dobbin’s papers are held by the State Archives.

Fast Start for Predecessor of Western Carolina University

On August 5, 1889, Cullowhee Academy, a private school that was the predecessor of Western Carolina University, opened with an enrollment of 18. The school quickly prospered and closed the year with 100 students.

The school’s second principal, Robert Lee Madison, was a strong proponent of teacher education and proposed that the General Assembly give money to an existing high school in each congressional district so that a normal school could be opened to train prospective teachers. The legislators chose only to fund Cullowhee, giving $1,500 to Madison to get the program started. Although not fully-funded at the time, Madison’s idea, called the “Cullowhee Experiment,” became the model for the state’s regional colleges.

Improvements to the campus were funded by the legislature in 1901, and the school’s name was changed to Cullowhee Normal and Industrial School in 1905. It began operating as a junior college in 1913, while continued growth facilitated the transition to a four-year college in 1925.

Rechartered in 1929, the school became Western Carolina Teachers College, a four-year, degree-granting institution. In 1953, the name changed again to Western Carolina College, to better reflect the institution’s liberal arts programs and graduate courses.

The college gained university status in 1967 adopting its ultimate name, Western Carolina University.

World War I U-Boat Casualty Off Cape Hatteras

On August 6, 1918, Diamond Shoals Lightship No. 71 was shelled by a German submarine while anchored off Cape Hatteras. The lightship, which had just sent a wireless message about the submarine’s shelling of the USS Merak, served as a beacon at sea to warn mariners of the dangerous shoals that formed off the coast.

As a result of the blows, the ship quickly sank. The lightship’s crew of 12 rowed 10 ten miles to shore in a small lifeboat. “We succeeded in getting away and never did mortal man row as we did that afternoon,” the chief engineer later recounted. The lightship was quickly replaced by another that was kept to use as a backup.

The German submarine that took the ship down, U-140, also claimed the Standard Oil tanker O.B. Jennings 100 miles off the Virginia coast and the four-masted schooner Stanley M. Seaman off Cape Hatteras in the each of the two previous days. Following the sinking of the lightship, the submarine was spotted just a half mile of the North Carolina coast in busy shipping lane.

By sinking American merchant vessels, Germany hoped to the hinder important trade along the Atlantic coast. Taking out the lightship would further disrupt navigation.

Staff writer Miles Layton can be reached at mlayton@ncweeklies.com