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Scholars Gather Saturday To Share Little-Known NC Stories

Cast of 'The Womanless Wedding', 1890 Trinity College Drama Group
Duke University Archives

"Stranger than Fiction: True Stories Found in NCpedia" is a special event which will be held Saturday September 13 at the North Carolina Museum of History. A panel of experts will share lesser-known stories from North Carolina's history.

Here are five such stories from NCpedia, the online encyclopedia of all things North Carolina:

1. There's a tradition in the state for men to get dressed up and hold 'Womanless Weddings'

... a mock wedding in which males dressed the roles of the entire wedding party, including the bride, mother of the bride, bridesmaids, and flower girl. These events were often fund-raisers, since many in the community were more than willing to pay admission to see their male neighbors in ridiculous female attire. - NCpedia

Sam Brinkley's beard was more than 5 feet long.
Credit State Archives of North Carolina
Sam Brinkley's beard was more than 5 feet long.

2. NC is home to a man who had one of the20th century's longest beards.

Sam Brinkley wasn't much taller than his beard. Brinkley was more than 6 feet tall; his beard was 5 feet 4 inches long.  Brinkley was born in 1850 in Yancey County, NC:

Brinkley’s beard was a late bloomer. According to newspaper accounts, until he was twenty one he had no beard to shave, then shaving only once a week to remove light fuzz. By twenty three, the growth had reached the astounding rate of a full beard in a week’s time. One article reported that the beard was entirely natural, not the result of restorers or invigorators. Another reported on its quality -- “soft and beautiful, indicating a peculiarly fertile state of nourishment.” - NCpedia

3. Tarboro, NC had the nation's first refrigerated swimming pool.

"On 9 July 1933 the Tarboro Town Council voted to ... design and install a refrigerating unit for its new municipal swimming pool," according to NCpedia.

By mid-August Frick had installed the refrigerating device at a cost of $2,592, making the Tarboro pool what is believed to have been the first and perhaps only refrigerated outdoor pool in the country. Tarboro's 'cool pool' drew crowds of swimmers and swimming meets throughout the 1930s . Native Tarboro swimmers won blue ribbons all over the country during this period, as the town's unique pool helped put it firmly in the national swimming picture.

Carolyn Perrett, May Champion Winner, poses at the Tarboro pool.
Credit North Carolina Department of Conservation and Development. / State Archives
State Archives
Carolyn Perrett, May Champion Winner, poses at the Tarboro pool.

Abraham Watkins Venable, talked another man to death.
Credit NC Museum of History.
Abraham Watkins Venable, talked another man to death.

4. There was a 'talking duel" in the state that actually resulted in death.

Abraham Watkins Venable was known for having a big mouth. In 1829, he was living in Granville County, NC. He owned 43 slaves and real estate. He loved to debate, and ran for a number of different political offices.  He was a strong champion of southern rights.

"According to the Raleigh Sentinel, had once participated in a talking contest with the biggest talker in Kentucky. When morning came, the Kentuckian was dead and Venable was found still whispering in his ear." - NCpedia

5. A NC man designed a machine to give himself a kick in the pants, which became hugely popular and a money-maker.

Tom Haywood of Croatan, NC demonstrates his kicking machine.
Credit NC Museum of History
Tom Haywood of Croatan, NC demonstrates his kicking machine.

Here's how the story is told in NCpedia:

Ever do something so dumb that you just wanted to kick yourself? Tom Haywood, of Croatan, knew that feeling and figured other folks might sometimes feel that way, too. So during the summer of 1937, he and local handyman Wilber Herring built a contraption that would deliver a good, swift kick to the seat of the pants of any willing recipient. The simple machine consisted of a hand-operated crank connected by a belt and pulleys to a wheel. Four spokes, each with an old shoe attached, jutted out from the wheel. To get the boot, the operator just bent over and turned the crank. A Craven County commissioner, Haywood said he intended the kicking machine for his personal use, “to perform the needed rebuke to my conscience.” He kept it behind his house. But so many folks heard about the machine and wanted to use it that Haywood finally moved it to a shelter in front of his general store. The shelter stood at the roadside on U.S. 70, about ten miles east of New Bern. According to old newspaper accounts, the kicking machine got a good workout on Sunday afternoons from motorists going home from the beach. But at nighttime, the machine really got cranking. “A lot of folks don’t want people to know they need a kick, so they wait until I close up at night and then come around,” Haywood said. “Late at night I can hear the machine just a squeaking outside.” Haywood’s kicking machine soon became a local tourist attraction and, eventually, a national curiosity.>> Read the full entry.

For more stories like these, check out "Stranger than Fiction: True Stories Found in NCpedia" at the North Carolina Museum of History. On Saturday, Sept. 13, a panel of experts will share lesser-known stories from North Carolina's history.

NCpedia recently added  thousands of articles from several sources including the University of North Carolina Press's "Encyclopedia of North Carolina," "Dictionary of North Carolina Biography," and "North Carolina Gazetteer."


Carol Jackson has been with WUNC since 2006. As Digital News Editor, she writes stories for, and helps reporters and hosts make digital versions of their radio stories. She is also responsible for sharing stories on social media. Previously, Carol spent eight years with WUNC's nationally syndicated show The Story with Dick Gordon, serving as Managing Editor and Interim Senior Producer.
Phoebe Judge is an award-winning journalist whose work has been featured on a numerous national radio programs. She regularly conducts interviews and anchors WUNC's broadcast of Here & Now. Previously, Phoebe served as producer, reporter and guest host for the nationally distributed public radio program The Story. Earlier in her career, Phoebe reported from the gulf coast of Mississippi. She covered the BP oil spill and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina for Mississippi Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Phoebe's work has won multiple Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards. Phoebe was born and raised in Chicago and is graduate of Bennington College and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.
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