For the third December in a row, I decided last week to visit the University of North Carolina campus and go to a Tar Heel basketball game.
I can’t exactly explain why, but I have felt a constant urge to take a little 36-hour vacation to Chapel Hill yearly and relax and escape briefly from the daily demands.
Maybe I think of it as the equivalent of a brief “spiritual” retreat some people like to take, but I feel drawn to this small town and beautiful campus where they play a little basketball.
It could be partly that I wish I had gone to school there, even though I am a proud University of Georgia alumnus.
But whatever the reason, I enjoy heading back to Chapel Hill.
Due to the lack of interest by my wife, Laura, in taking the trip, I have usually gone by myself, but I have not minded it. I can eat wherever I want and soak in as much basketball and college atmosphere as I want.
And for the last two years, I have found stories about which to write. Last year, I wrote about the University Baptist Church by campus being designed by the late noted Chattanooga architect R.H. Hunt.
This year I did a daily double – I checked out the Lyndhurst Foundation files at the UNC library about Baylor School and researched a little more detail about a tragic car accident involving a well-known Chattanoogan.
Unfortunately, getting to Chapel Hill requires a little work. The first two years I went, I was living in Knoxville, so it was only about a 5½-hour drive. From Chattanooga, unfortunately, it is a little over 7 hours, so I am not sure if I will be able to keep up the yearly sojourn indefinitely.
Last Wednesday morning, Dec 6, I awoke a little after 5:30 a.m. and began the journey. After a breakfast to go at the Hardee’s in Ooltewah and a sit-down lunch at a Wendy’s about an hour east of Asheville, N.C., this sophisticated diner arrived in Chapel Hill about 2 p.m.
And guess where I went after I checked myself in at the historic and handsome Carolina Inn by the campus and parked my car without using any of the valet offerings to save money? That is right, I went to get something to eat.
Actually, I was just getting a little dessert this time from the unique Mediterranean Deli on West Franklin Street that I have frequented in the past.
After enjoying a peanut butter and chocolate delicacy, I headed the half mile back to the inn on foot.
In the past I had gone to both a women’s basketball game in the late afternoon at the old Carmichael Arena (formerly Auditorium) and a men’s game at night at the Dean Smith Center, but today was just a men’s game against Western Carolina.
As a result, I had earlier made plans to go to the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library in the afternoon if time allowed.
Earlier in the fall, I – like many others -- had read the detailed and interesting series done by the Chattanooga Times Free Press called “The Lost Way.” It chronicled in part how Chattanooga Venture and others had developed the now-praised riverfront development efforts beginning in the 1980s.
I had noticed that one of the key sources used was the file collection of the Lyndhurst Foundation that had been donated to the University of North Carolina library. The Lyndhurst Foundation – started as an offshoot of another family foundation by Chattanooga Coca-Cola bottler Jack Lupton, a UNC graduate -- had funded some of the projects related to Venture and the early riverfront redevelopment.
I was curious just to look through the folders. While all the librarians were very nice, UNC – which is known for its top library science program -- takes its library seriously. As a result, I had to fill out a form online, get my picture taken, and use only pencils and their paper.
Knowing I did not have a lot of time, I just looked at the first folder alphabetically after mistakenly thinking beforehand the files would instead be categorized by years.
Ironically, the first two folders dealt with Baylor School, my alma mater. So I naturally looked through them with interest – but not with my own pen and notebook in hand.
One dealt with a detailed report by then-headmaster Herb Barks Jr. written in 1979 chronicling Baylor’s efforts since 1973 to admit and retain black students. It said that the first two students were Monty Bruell and Gurdon Robinson, who had enrolled in 1973 in the seventh grade, the youngest grade at the time.
Mr. Bruell would go on to graduate as the first black student in 1979, while Mr. Robinson transferred to another school. The obviously respectful Mr. Barks in his report was pointing out that it was not easy keeping black students at Baylor at a time when they were so much in the minority and that the more traditional black schools might be more appealing to them.
While writing the letter during the 1979-80 school year, when Baylor had 11 black male students, he was apparently still trying to figure out how to boost and maintain black enrollment. As he said in his report to the Lyndhurst Foundation, which was helping supplement minority scholarships, “Our future need will be to ensure that we have blacks in each class level and to find a black teacher. We hope to have at least one black faculty member for 1980-81.”
Somewhat surprisingly, personal academic and scholarship information about the black students and others was available in the file. And in another folder, resumes and letters of inquiry by prospective faculty members about teaching jobs could be found, as could strategic information about Baylor’s expanding academic curriculum and goals.
It was all provided to Lyndhurst, perhaps voluntarily, as Baylor sought funding for its various academic and student enrichment projects.
It looked like great historical information, but obviously a little too personal and private to be hashed over in a newspaper travel article like this one.
So after looking through the Lyndhurst Foundation files for a little while, I headed down a couple of floors to a room that had old North Carolina newspapers on microfilm.
Over the years, I have written periodically about the life of Grace Moore, the niece of the noted singer and actress by the same name. The younger Grace Moore was a pretty and well-thought-of student at Girls Preparatory School and was the 1958 May queen.
She had been down visiting the University of North Carolina from the small, now-closed Briarcliff College in New York and attending some dances in February 1960 when she and a Briarcliff classmate, Judy Searl, were both tragically killed in a car accident.
I don’t think the articles in the Chattanooga newspaper mentioned as many details, so I thought maybe some Chapel Hill area papers might have more information, and perhaps I could even find and visit the exact location of the unfortunate accident.
Another nice and professional-acting male librarian showed me the microfilm, and I looked at the Feb. 22, 1960, edition of the Chapel Hill Weekly newspaper. There on the front page I quickly found the story.
In it and in the UNC student newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, I was able to find online later, I learned more information. The articles said that a 1956 Pontiac driven by UNC student Edward Mark Brooke of Bryn Mawr, Pa., near Philadelphia had been seen going at a high rate of speed on North Carolina Highway 54 near the Durham community of Nelson and went out of control.
The eastbound car that was heading to the Raleigh-Durham airport for a 5:30 p.m. flight that Sunday hit the right shoulder, and then crossed the median and struck a 1952 Ford convertible driven by Edward Whitehurst of Chapel Hill.
Miss Moore and Miss Searl, who were in the Pontiac, which caught fire after the crash, were killed, while Mr. Brooke, Pontiac passenger Charles Lefort of Raleigh, and Mr. Whitehurst were injured. Mr. Brooke’s injuries were said to be the most serious, and he was in critical condition.
A highway patrolman said in the Daily Tar Heel article that Mr. Brooke was going to be charged with manslaughter.
Reading the old article, I could only imagine what caused the wreck, other than apparent speed. Were the young men enjoying their conversations so much with the young women that the driver was not paying as much attention as he should? And were these two their dates for the weekend?
One can only also ponder how he handled the unfortunate crash over the years. It would be an obvious weight on anyone’s shoulders.
The next morning, I went back to the library to see if I could find anything about those two male students. Copies of the yearbook, “Yackety Yack,” lined the shelves (and can also be found free online, I later learned), so I looked through the 1961 one after not being able to find them in the 1960 one after a quick glance the afternoon before.
There under the sophomore section, I found the picture of Mr. Brooke, and under the junior section, I found Mr. Lefort’s. I also figured out that they both were members of Zeta Psi fraternity, which today is still located a few feet from the Carolina Inn where I was staying.
So Mr. Brooke, who looked like a handsome young man, had evidently been able to move on past the unfortunate tragedy, at least generally, as had Mr. Lefort.
After initially looking at the microfilm that afternoon, I headed back to the Carolina Inn, and made a stop at the UNC Student Stores shop inside a mid-century modern building and bought a T-shirt.
Then, while walking back past the famed and pretty Old Well landmark on campus, I happened to find an a cappella men’s chorus of students singing Christmas carols, while about 40 students stood around and watched. It was a neat moment.
I then quickly changed and took the roughly 15-minute walk to the back part of the UNC campus to the Smith Center to watch the game. Although the large arena would be only about half full for a game against a smaller school from the same state, the best seat I could find online was about halfway up the upper deck.
But there were not many people around me, so I could stretch out and enjoy my hot dog, popcorn and Coca-Cola (in honor of the late Mr. Lupton).
Coach Roy Williams came out before the game amid applause, as has happened every time I have been there, and he also threw some T-shirts, apparently signed, to some students.
Although football games against smaller schools are sometimes not overly exciting, this basketball game – which ended up being a 104-61 victory for the Tar Heels – was. The reason was that the standout Tar Heel players were able to make numerous offensive displays that showed skill and/or athleticism.
Western Carolina – which had jumped out to a misleading 5-0 lead – has former UNC player Jackson Simmons as its director of basketball operations, and he was introduced before the game amid applause.
The Carolina basketball family is an important entity, and it was also highlighted during some ads on the big screens in the arena during timeouts. Yes, former Tar Heel Michael Jordan even made one or two appearances on the screens.
The Chapel Hill area Bojangle’s restaurants evidently had a promotion going in which sausage and biscuits could be had for a greatly reduced price if UNC scored 100 points. So after going down to the lower level to hear the large UNC pep band
during the last 3 or 4 minutes of the game, I heard the band members and maybe others start chanting the phrase, “We want biscuits,” when UNC had reached 99 points. It was hilarious.
And after the team did surpass the 100-point mark, the band members started chanting the word, “biscuits,” numerous times.
But the best part was when the game ended, and the band started playing with enthusiasm several songs, including the school’s alma mater and the UNC fight song, “I’m a Tar Heel Born.”
It was a nice way to finish enjoying the basketball victory.
I am aware, of course, that UNC is traveling to Knoxville to play Tennessee this weekend, and I am scheduled to make the short drive up there to see the game. Since I still do some adjunct teaching at the University of Tennessee, I will be in outwardly neutral mode, as I usually am when I attend a sporting event at UT involving Georgia.
With a full house expected and the Vols having a good year so far, Tennessee and its fans will definitely be ready for the game against the defending national champions.
Since the Western Carolina game lasted less than two hours, I walked back through the campus and headed to Ben & Jerry’s on Franklin Street for a waffle ice cream cone of chocolate and strawberry.
It was not super cold that night, so I slowly and circuitously walked back to my hotel through the older and pretty parts of the UNC campus relishing the game, my visit and – of course – the ice cream.
Although I had not noticed it well in the past, this time I was drawn to the “Silent Sam” statue in honor of Confederate Civil War veterans from UNC. While other Confederate statues in the North Carolina and Virginia region had been torn down or removed back in the late summer, this one was still standing, although a later online search showed that some protests about its removal had taken place there at that time.
But on this night, it was standing quietly and with attention from no one but me.
I walked away with plans to get its picture the next morning.
After enjoying a few moments sitting in the nice and historic lobby of the Carolina Inn, which was nicely decorated for Christmas, I went to bed cherishing the day.
The next morning, I awoke and took an hour-long jog around the campus, noticing that the track that stood near the Carmichael Arena was no longer there and was being replaced by a stadium for soccer and lacrosse, two sports that are also big there.
After ending my jog at the Panera, where, yes, I did eat breakfast, I went back and got ready to leave town. Using information from one of the articles about the unfortunate wreck, I drove by where I thought it was on the way out of town.
But after arriving back home and looking at the article in The Daily Tar Heel, I realized that may not have been where it occurred, so perhaps I can try to find the location or approximate location next time.
It will give me one more excuse to be drawn back to this pretty town with the pretty campus – and a pretty good basketball team.