Mount Airy News

Masks out, harvest in, at Museum gala

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Mount Airy Museum of Regional History’s fall fundraising gala has a new take on what’s “in” and what’s “out.”

Out — masks and casino gambling.

In — the first of two 25th birthdays along with an inter-generational take on the fall harvest.

The museum has tried for the past few years to find the perfect replacement for its popular Casino Royale gala which was discontinued in 2016 when state authorities called museum director Matt Edwards days before the event to tell him the long-running event violated state law.

That year, the event proceeded without gaming. In 2017, the event was replaced by a masquerade ball.

“This year,” said Edwards, “we’re not so close to Halloween, so the board chose a Fall Harvest Gala as the theme for the fall fundraiser, which will also mark the museum’s first 25th anniversary.

The museum was established 25 years ago: in 1993, but the doors did not open to the public until 1995, thereby setting up 2025 for another silver anniversary.

Edwards said people have been inquiring what the dress code is going to be, to which he has been replying, “The word ‘gala’ in the name implies you should put a little effort into getting dressed up. I think it’s appropriate to do that.”

Unlike most area non-profits, the museum operates on a calendar fiscal year, according to Edwards, and this event is make or break to keep the museum’s finances on the black side of the ledger as the year ends, shoring up funds for operating expenses.

Two new things for 2018 will be Interlam taking on the mantle of title sponsor, and the day of the gala, which has been moved to Saturday from Friday.

“We constantly butt up with high school football on Friday. But on Saturday, there’s college football. We’re going with Saturday this year, so everybody doesn’t have to rush around after work on Friday, get here, have a cocktail, eat dinner, and rush home. We’re hoping Saturday will accommodate the schedules of some folks who might not have made it on Friday. And we hope they’ll relax and stay and dance and enjoy themselves after dinner.”

The music and dancing part of the equation has been successfully resolved. The band Continental Divide will return after a successful engagement in 2017.

“Everyone liked them so much, we brought them back,” said Edwards.

The band’s lead singer, Gene Pharr, was inducted into the Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame in 2016. But the band ventures out past beach music. According to Edwards, they play a balanced set that includes several genres, including covers of recent hits.

“They play a little jazz early in the evening, but as the night gets going, they play whatever makes the crowd get involved.”

Though Edwards freely concedes the Fall Harvest Gala doesn’t have much in the way of a gimmick — “It’s a dinner-dance; There’s nothing groundbreaking there” — he is counting on the museum’s inter-generational appeal to make it work.

“Our events are unique in the diversity in ages we get to them. We have been trying to attract a younger clientele. It’s part of our bigger program here at the museum. We want to capture kids’ attention when they’re about this big,” said Edwards, gesturing at a height somewhere waist and knee high.

“All of the programs we aim at children are focused on getting children accustomed to being museum patrons at a young age. Getting kids affiliated when they’re young will set them up to be comfortable in museums as they get older. And with kids, you get their parents, which are usually younger.”

Edwards said it’s sometimes challenging for folks on a budget — and younger people often have less disposable income — to get them to a charity fundraiser.

“But for folks who see the value of investing in the museum, it will work,” he said.

Event tickets are $65 and drawdown tickets are $100. A couples special is $200 and includes two event tickets and one drawdown tickets, a savings of $30.

The drawdown has a cash prize of $6,000 plus a few $100 prizes along the way. Drawdown ticket holders do not have to be present to win, but to split a ticket, the physical ticket must be present.

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History’s Fall Harvest Gala will be Saturday, Sept. 15, from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Dinner at 7:30, music and dancing at 8, and final drawdown drawing from 10:30 until 11. Tickets must be purchased in advance and are available at the museum. Call 336-786-4478.

Oral Histories Reveal Much

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Francis Fallenstein was born, it is said, to a noble family in Dusseldorf, Prussia in 1822 but his loving, gentle mother died when he was young. Chafing under his father’s strict rules, he and his brother Hugo, ran away about 1837, stowed away on or joined the crew of a ship bound for America, and started a new life. He didn’t want to be found so he gave his mother’s maiden name, Mueller. The official recorded it as Miller and Francis and his family have been Millers ever since.  We know these details and many others because members of the family told the stories and wrote them down, some were eventually videotaped and archived by professors at Appalachian State University.  Official records such as the census, death, and land records are among the best tools for genealogists and historians but informal records such as diaries, letters, and memoirs are also invaluable. They are often the only place a name change at the border will be explained or personality traits will be remembered long after the person is gone.

For generations we have learned these stories at dining room tables, on grandma’s porch, at church, or family reunions. Details are sometimes lost or grow hazy with retellings but the gist of the stories remain.  Too often, however, we move through life, too busy to sit and listen. There are bills to be paid, meetings to attend, things to do that draw us away from the elder members of our family until age, disease, and death steal them away and, too late, we realize we didn’t have another Sunday to ask those questions or to write names on the back of photos.

For years I’ve encouraged folks to write their stories down or record them on tape, the ones they’ve been told or the ones they’ve lived. The answer is often, “I’m nothing special. No one cares about these old stories.”  Respectfully, I beg to differ. Stories about military service or going to meeting across the ‘holler,’ doing laundry in a wringer washer, or grandma courting that Edwards boy even though her brothers tried to warn him off are part of the fabric of Surry’s history and those of us who didn’t live it will want to know even if we don’t realize it yet.

I wonder how many local Millers, a name that is, according to the US Census Bureau, the sixth most common surname in the United States, know at least some of them are descended from Fallenstein? Or that Miller Road is named for their family? Or that there is a monument in the front yard of the home Francis built?  We have a rich collection of family lore about the early Miller generations for a few reasons, not the least of which is Francis’ half-sister’s son, Max Weber, internationally credited as one of three founders of sociology. Max and his wife visited his cousins here in October 1904 during his trip to speak at the Worlds Fair in St. Louis.

Such stories are gathered in the Surry County Genealogical Society’s Surry County Heritage books published in 1983, in the indominable Ruth Minnick’s columns, and, to some degree, in papers in the museum’s collection. There are so many more stories in this region, though. Treasure troves of history are stored in the memories of our elders and every time we lose one, every funeral we attend, is the loss of an encyclopedia of knowledge we will never get back.

The museum is planning some oral history workshops in the coming year, watch for information about them. But you don’t need to wait for us. I encourage you all to make the time to sit and talk, to write down, or digitally record your family’s stories.  And, I hope, share them with us at the museum. Future generations will thank you.

for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years in journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she was also involved with museums and history tours. She can be reached at or by calling 336-786-4478 x229.

Museum Offers Answers, Mysteries From the Past

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Our History is a regular column by Kate Rauhauser-Smith, Director of Education and Programs at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, examining the region’s history on display at the museum.

As I’ve been told many times since moving to Mount Airy in 2005, I’m “not from around here.” I grew up in Pennsylvania’s gently rolling farm country. I’ve always loved history. It’s a passion I learned at the knee of my Pappaw who took the family to many battlefields and historic sites when I was small.  He cherished and, more importantly, shared the stories he’d grown up with about our early family who settled the state in the 18th century and he kept me wide-eyed with tales of his grandfather watching the Confederates march right passed the house in the sweltering heat of 1863. It made me feel anchored to that place in ways I never understood until we moved 450 miles away.

From our earliest days here I’ve been fascinated by people’s stories. There are cousins here of George Washington, Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and Sequoyah, the man who developed an alphabet for the Cherokee language. I’ve had tiny ladies of great age tell me their family stories of the Yankee troops camping at the south end of town and it seems everyone knows someone with artifacts from the Native America village when it was disturbed by the Proctor-Silex construction.  Museums, for me, are wonderful places filled with treasures just like my great grandma’s attic. Each bit and bauble holds a story. Some of the stories are tied together. Some stand alone, incomplete because no one remembers who wrote that letter or whose sweet face peers through the ages from that long-ago day when someone took a picture.  I held one of those orphaned memories late last year, a simple piece of blue-lined school paper, brown with age, and covered in a spidery scrawl and uncertain spelling.

“August the Second 1895,” it reads, “Being the day on which I am sixteen years old I propose to keep a general record of what time I remain here”  The author, who was unknown at the time, was clearly a farm boy, he stacked oats, cut buckwheat, went to ‘preaching,’ made cider with his cousins, and helped Grandpa bring in hay. He traveled to Hillsville that month to see men put in jail for fighting and for selling brandy.  The boy talked of helping his uncles, Enoch Webb and WL Martin, with chores but never identified himself, and so it was a mystery … Until this week. As I cast about for the subject of this, my first column for The Mount Airy News, I was drawn back to that diary letter and the mystery boy. I asked Amy Snyder, the museum’s curator, what she knew about it. Only that it came from papers from Miss Neeta Webb’s estate in the late 90s, she said.

On a whim I searched online for information about Miss Webb and found her father was OB Webb…who had been born on Aug 2, 1879…16 years before the diary was written. His father had several siblings, one named Enoch and a sister Stella Mae who’d married Wyatt L. Martin. We had our boy.  Continuing to search online and through the many pictures we got from the estate, we know Obe was a tall, lanky boy with black hair and striking blue eyes born near Laurel Fork, Carroll County, Virginia. We also know he is first cousin twice removed of Mount Airy Mayor David Rowe, whose mother was a Webb.

A 1928 biographical sketch of O.B. (as he styled his name in adulthood) says he had a talent for mechanics. He was hired to build a bandsaw for Mount Airy lumber yard and he stayed, establishing a plumbing business on Main Street. He had a hand in several businesses and was a Mason, a Shriner and a member of the Kiwanis Club here.  The Webbs have been in Carroll County since about 1835 when it seems the entire clan and several other families moved from Grayson County. The Martins, Goads, Nesters, Edwards, and others seem to have been living in community for generations, moving from Franklin to Grayson not long after the Revolution, then into Carroll County and many continuing to move south into Surry. Members of each family have served in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and both World Wars.

There are pieces and clues of thousands of regional stories tucked away in the archives here and many thousands more waiting to be unearthed. What’s hiding in your attic? That box under Grandma’s bed or at the back of the old tobacco barn?  Let me know if you have questions about items in the museum. I welcome history and family stories passed down to you. Share them to my email and we’ll explore the answers through this column. or by calling 336-786-4478 x228

Museum opens traveling exhibit

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The new exhibit opens today to run through Sept. 3 at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.  “A Forest Journey” was created by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It sheds new light on the history of the use of wood throughout the world, on forest products (from paper to lifesaving pharmaceuticals) and on the relationship between forests  and the benefits of trees.  “We’ve got some pretty lackluster instructions,” said museum director Matt Edwards as he and a group of volunteers and staffers struggled on Wednesday to set up the new traveling exhibit.  The exhibit arrived in eight large crates, only one of which fit into the museum’s elevator.  “We were unpacking them in the gift shop, and ferrying them upstairs,” said Edwards.

The exhibit is the second in a series that are science-related and address a push for STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, art and math). Last year’s dinosaur exhibit was the first in the series.  “We got funds from the N.C. Museum of Natural Science for the series,” said Edwards, “and they also fund our educational director position.”  “It’s part of our broader mission. Art, natural history and science are not something we have focused on until the last few years.”  Within those parameters, Edwards said the forestry exhibit was chosen primarily because of its size.  “It was the smallest one available, and we are limited in space to about 1,500 square feet,” said Edwards. “Some of the others we were looking at required as much as 5,000 square feet.”

“This exhibit is highly interactive. We look for new and engaging ways to interact with our visitors. Most of the time, museums are telling everyone to ‘not touch,’ but people like to touch things, and this exhibit gives them a chance to do that.”  “Seeing, reading, hearing hit different parts of your brain. This hits something else,” said events coordinator Kate Rauhauser-Smith, as she steadied a large, still precariously placed piece of the exhibit. “What’s it called?”  “It’s called “kinesthetic learning,” answered Sonya Laney, director of education and programs, while crouched on the floor bolting exhibit pieces together.  “We’ve got a pretty aggressive calendar of programs coordinated with the exhibit through Labor Day,” said Edwards.

“The last of the spring History Talks will be a screening of ‘America’s First Forest’ and discussion of the history and science of forestry in North Carolina,” said Laney, after freeing herself from her floor-bound crouch.  “We hope schools who came to see the dinosaur exhibit will return,” said Edwards. “It’s hard to beat the wow factor of dinosaurs. That’s partly why we did dinosaurs the first year, to tell people we’re here.  "While forestry may not seem to have the wow of dinosaurs, a good number of folks have a connection with forestry. It’s part of our human culture. The timber industry was big here, early on, and there were the furniture factories.”

The exhibit was inspired by the Harvard classic “A Forest Journey: The Role of Wood in the Development of Civilization” by science writer John Perlin. 

• Jamie Lewis, historian at the Forest History Society, will present the museum’s final History Talk, “America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment,” on April 15, from 2-3:30 p.m.with a film screening of “America’s First Forest” and discussion of the history and science of forestry in North Carolina. History Talks are held on the third floor of the Museum and are free to the public.

• Homeschool Day at the Museum will be April 17, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. when students can spend the day at the museum and participate in a variety of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics-based activities, as well as history, tour the museum and check out “A Forest Journey.”  The cost is $7 per student, which includes all materials for crafts, hands-on activities, and museum admission. The cost is $5 per chaperone.

History Talk focuses on women in wartime

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High winds and residual power outages on Saturday did not keep a capacity crowd from coming out to Mount Airy Museum of Regional History to hear Dr. Angela Robbins’ presentation “North Carolina Women Do Their Bit During World War I.”

Robbins, a “Road Scholar” with the North Carolina Humanities Council, was second in a series of Spring 2018 History Talks at the museum. She received her Ph.D. in U.S. history from UNC Greensboro, where she specialized in women’s history. Saturday’s presentation was based on her dissertation research. She teaches at Meredith College and delivers similar presentations around the state.  “‘Do your bit’ was a popular phrase at the time” began Robbins, a slogan which she adapted to “Do your BIG bit,” to highlight the enormous contributions made by women to the war effort.  Robbins said that American women at the beginning of the twentieth century were already organized into women’s clubs which did civic and humanitarian work in their communities. In North Carolina and most of the South, economies were still suffering following the Civil War, and the women worked through their clubs to do charitable work in their communities.  When Belgium was invaded by Germany, and news reached America of civilians being slaughtered and burned out of their homes, the women tuned their attention to providing relief to them, using the techniques and organization they already had in place.  A State Council of Defense and a National Council of Defense was set up, and a complicated system of committees was developed. Women worked independently of men in women’s auxiliaries. Committees were segregated by race as well as gender. African-American women formed committees to make “comfort kits” to send to black soldiers, not expecting them to receive any of the kits made by white women.

Robbins showed a series of posters that adapted a two-pronged approach to war propaganda involving women. Some of the posters showed wise, nurturing maternal figures and others focused on flirtatious images of scantily clad women.  Early on in the war effort, women did the kind of work traditionally considered “women’s work.” “Girls, you were born knowing how to sew and change a diaper, weren’t you?” Robbins asked the audience.  Women were expected to help with shortages of wheat, meat, dairy and sugar by observing “Meatless Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to help starving women and children in Belgium. Home demonstration agents taught women the newly developed techniques of home canning food and provided a recipe for a butter substitute, consisting of gelatin, milk and oleomargarine.

By the time the United States finally entered the war in 1917, groups of college women had taken on typically male roles and were actually growing food.  These “farmerettes,” as they called themselves, donned middy blouses, khaki skirts and brogans to go out to farms and drive the tractors themselves. Motorized tractors were a relatively new technology at the time and not many male farmers drove them, much less women. The farmerettes, Robbins noted, prepared their own lunch, and did not rely on farmer’s wives to cook for them as the men did.  Two causes for which women had been organizing even before the war, temperance and women’s suffrage, took the back burner for some women during the war, but not for others. This was a point of contention, but within two years of war’s end the temperance movement had brought about Prohibition and the suffragettes gained the vote for women.

The traveling exhibit, “North Carolina in the Great War,” exhibit will be at the museum until March 24. The final Spring 2018 History Talk, “First in Forestry” will be April 15 at 2 p.m. It will be a combination film screening and talk, presented by James Lewis, historian of the Forest History Center and the Emmy-winning film, “First in Forestry: Carl Schenk and the Biltmore Forest School,” will be screened.

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