Mount Airy News

History talk opens new museum law enforcement exhibit

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The Surry County Law Enforcement History Exhibit opened at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History Saturday with a history talk titled “Countdown to Tragedy? 1972 Surry County Sheriff’s Department Hostage Standoff.” The event was an example of history shared is history remembered.

The talk included first-hand accounts of the standoff, which was featured by national news media. Hostages and officers in attendance were David Beal, C.R. “Ronnie” Davis, Mike Hensley, Wallace Creed, Mitchell Davis, Ila White and C.R. “Pete” Gillespie. Justin Stirewalt served as moderator for the history talk.

Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards credited the work of Stirewalt’s own personal collection of law enforcement memorabilia for forming the bulk of the exhibit.

“Historically, a lot of the gear for law enforcement had to be purchased by the officers themselves,” said Stirewalt. “Up until the mid-1970s sheriff’s deputy’s had to buy their own cars. You’d be surprised what turns up in people’s closets.  Some departments have been holding on to items, but a great deal of the early history has been lost. What is here is a snapshot of the profession from the 1950s to late 1980s.”

He said law enforcement training early on was mostly what officers could learn on the street compared to training standards today. Stirewalt said Basic Law Enforcement Training now involves 600 hours of training. He opened the talk by thanking the packed room for “coming out to see what was in your closets.”

Panelists White, Davis, Creed and Hensley were hostages in the incident which occurred in October of 1972. Roy Duncan had returned to the office after filing a missing persons report for his wife, Faye.

White said he returned, casually carrying a shotgun as if he was going to register the weapon, which was a common practice then. She said Duncan pointed the gun at her and demanded help finding his wife. Staffer Karen Allen, who was also on duty, calmly pushed the alarm pedal. Creed heard the alarm dispatched and responded to the call, entering the office through a side door.

“He was sitting behind the desk with a shotgun when I came in,” recalled Creed. “He told me to give him my pistol and there was nothing else I could do.” Davis was the next deputy to arrive. Davis explained how Duncan later ordered him to “go get a pill to keep him awake” and then, suspecting a trick, made him take half the capsule with scalding hot coffee.

Frustration was evident as Davis recalled how he was powerless to help his partner, who later left and came back with balloons to comfort a 4-year-old girl who accompanied Duncan and made everyone nervous by playing with the cocked shotgun Duncan held. All agreed they were certain someone was going to be shot accidentally. Creed had been given another pistol he concealed in his back pocket.

Meanwhile, the area around the office filled with crowds, media, sharpshooters and officers from surrounding departments. Eventually, some hostages were released. Faye Duncan was located and brought to the scene. Prior to this Beal, who was a State Bureau of Investigation agent, heard the call and helped officers with his knowledge of Mount Airy to help direct the overall strategy.

Officers who had brought Faye Duncan from High Point arrived and in short order Duncan agreed to give up pistols and the shotgun. The two were allowed to talk and reportedly at 1:52 that afternoon, Duncan was escorted out to the patrol car and the standoff was over.

The exhibit includes items from Surry County Sheriff’s Office, Surry County Constable, Mount Airy Police Department, Elkin Police Department, Pilot Mountain Police Department, Dobson Police Department, Surry County E-911 Communications, Surry Community College Campus Police, Surry County Animal Control, and Boggs Patrol Service.

Thsi exhibit will run through mid February 2015. Interested persons may visit www.northcarolinamuseum.org for museum hours.

Bringing History to Life-Junior historians club kicks off today

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Without looking at the past, it’s sometimes hard to understand the present, and the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History hopes to instill a love of the past in the area’s young people.

“What we want to do is get kids involved with and excited about our community’s history,” said museum Director Matt Edwards.

In an effort to accomplish that goal, the museum is kicking off this year’s season of the Jesse Franklin Pioneers, a chapter of the state’s Junior Historian Association. The club started up again for the school year this week, with an informational meeting for parents and interested young people.

Edwards said the local club has been in existence since 2005, and has already garnered the attention of other clubs in the state.  “The club is an extremely active part of our educational and outreach program here at the museum, and they’re very good at what they do,” he said. “We have twice been named the chapter of the year, and were the rookie chapter of the year the year it was founded.“From a track record of success standpoint, this club has been very successful in competing with other chapters in the state, and each year we participate in an annual conference in Raleigh,” Edwards added. “We’ve had either individual or group winners every year the club has been in existence.”

This year, the club’s activities will focus on a theme.  “For the past several years we’ve picked a theme that has ranged from cemetery history to old time radio,” he said. “This year we’re going with architectural history and how that ties into community development and the social growth of the community. It sounds very complicated, but it’s a great way for us to teach local history in the context of the buildings kids see every day and what was happening when they were being built.”

Club participants will also get the benefit of another first this year, Edwards said. “We’ve been able to bring in a community sponsor for the club,” he said. “Chick-Fil-A is going to be sponsoring the club this year, and I’m hoping that partnership will let us ratchet up the quality of the program even more than in the past.”

For the museum director, the club is just another way to share his love for community and its history.  “Part of my job is to share the passion that I have for local history and to find ways to make it fun and exciting for kids during their daily lives,” he said. “That’s what this is about. It’s about finding a kid and connecting them with a nugget of local history and getting them fired up about it.”  He smiled.“Engaging history and helping it come alive,” he said. “That was the goal from the beginning.”

For more information, contact Edwards or Amy Snyder at the museum at 336-786-4478.

Bringing History to Life: Museum to Screen WPAQ Documentary

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Next week’s History Talks event at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History promises to be one for the record books.  “This isn’t going to be your average program,” said museum Executive Director Matt Edwards. ‘This one will be a little more special.”

Saturday’s program, which gets under way at 2 p.m. on September 13 in the third floor meeting space at the museum, will feature Jordan Nance, a documentary film-maker who will be screening his well-received film “Broadcast: A Man and His Dream.”

The film should have special meaning for Surry County residents, Edwards said.  “This is about the early days of WPAQ radio and its impact on the historic music of the region,” he said.  Edwards said Nance’s documentary is even more impressive due to his physical challenges.  “What’s interesting about this program is not neessarily our typical History Talks speaker,” he said. “He suffers from cerebral palsy, and the form he has makes him wheelchair-bound and he has to speak through a computerized voice mechanism much like Stephen Hawking.”

In Nance’s teenage years, Edwards said, he became fascinated with the music of the region, listening often to WPAQ.  “He would listen from his home in Reidsville and developed a real affinity for old-time music,” he said.

That devotion to the region’s musical heritage planted the seeds for decades of work, according to Edwards.  “He has spent the better part of the last 10-12 years documenting the early history of the station, and he became close friends with the late Ralph Epperson,” Edwards said. “In fact, he was able to interview him about six weeks before (Epperson) passed away in 2005.”

All told, Nance interviewed more than 60 musicians and former employees affiliated with the radio station, many of whom were on hand during the station’s developmental years in the 1950s and 1960s, he added.  “Kelly Epperson, who owns the station today, will tell you Jordan knows more about that radio station than anyone else alive, including himself,” Edwards said.

In addition to the documentary screening, Edwards said additional programming will include performances by some of the station’s early musicians including Mac Snow and the Round Peak Ramblers.

“As an added bonus, the museum will be unveiling the original WPAQ call letters which hung on the outside of the station since 1948,” Edwards said. “When they were taken down, we were very fortunate to be able to have them repaired, and we will be placing them in our permanent exhibit.” 

Edwards said he encourages the public to attend the free event.  “From a historic standpoint, what Nance has done not only helps us to document a very important piece of our regional musical history, but he’s also bee able to find tremendous resources that no one new were out there,” he said. “He has images from people’s private collections that no one knew existed.”  “It’s just a treasure trove for us,” Edwards said.

Everyone is a Storyteller, expert says

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“Tell me a story” is one of the first things a child learns to say — right after being taught how to address Mom and Dad.

But while wanting to hear a good story is an innate desire of nearly everyone, the ability to tell one is just as common, according to a master storyteller who displayed that art Saturday at Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.

“I think everyone is a storyteller,” Terri Ingalls said just before launching into a series of folk tales during an afternoon program that concluded a summer storytelling series at the museum.

“Not everyone is a performer,” Ingalls added of the dramatic and other skills that can enhance the process. “But everyone is a storyteller.”

Ingalls is a member of a group called the Surry County Storytelling Guild, which promotes that art for adults and children throughout the area and meets on the first Tuesday night of each month at the Mount Airy Public Library. As many as 20 storytellers will gather to engage in activities that hone their craft and, yes, swap tall tales of one kind or another for purposes of critique.

Yet the emphasis Saturday afternoon was strictly on entertainment, as Ingalls demonstrated the talents that have made her a highly respected part of the region’s theatrical as well as storytelling community.

Though she stood alone in front of about 25 listeners without benefit of eye-catching props or costumes, Ingalls quickly had the audience enthralled. Her stories whisked the group from a third-floor meeting room in Mount Airy to faraway lands.

The first tale she spun was about two brothers and a magic box, which began with Ingalls asking some audience members about a recent trip to the beach and the reality of not being able to drink ocean water because it is salty.

Ingalls’ story explained how the water got to be that way, which arose after one of the brothers in her story gave rice cakes to a starving old man although he was hungry himself. The old man then was transformed into a handsome figure who repaid the act of kindness by giving the brother a special green jade box that would grant all his wishes.  The brother used its powers to conjure up a big house for himself and lots of food and wine along with new clothes, with a simple “thank you” required to end the items resulting from each wish. He also threw a big party so everyone could enjoy the bounty, including his greedy older brother who subsequently stole the magic box for his own.  While escaping in a rowboat, the bad brother ate rice cakes and requested some salt from the magic box to make them taste better. But not knowing that he needed to say thanks to the box to end that request, the salt kept flowing out and eventually filled the boat — causing it to sink.  That magic box is still putting out salt to this day, Ingalls concluded. “And that’s why the ocean is salty.”

The storyteller kept the audience riveted by using rising inflections in her voice to emphasize dramatic moments or soft tones for quieter ones, or relying on wild gestures with her arms to simulate action sequences. When Ingalls pointed to the ceiling and vividly described lanterns hanging from imaginary trees during a party scene, the audience could almost see them.  And as she slowly paced across the room to emphasize a suspenseful moment in another tale centering on cats, the old wooden floor of the museum creaked in cooperation.

The appreciative audience members included Doug and Denise Lincoln, a couple visiting from Cape Girardeau, Mo., who had read a newspaper article about the program at the museum and decided to attend.  “She’s a great storyteller,” Doug Lincoln said.  Mrs. Lincoln mentioned how some practitioners of the art can be intimidating or overly boisterous in their approach. “It wasn’t overbearing,” she said of Ingalls’ style. 

Ingalls said one needn’t be a professional storyteller to entertain others, although there are mechanisms to sharpen one’s skills to the fullest. For example, she mentioned East Tennessee State University, which now offers a master’s degree program in reading/storytelling. Many times the art of storytelling unfolds simply, Ingalls explained, perhaps when a family is gathered at the dinner table and hears the story of Uncle Fred falling through the floor while in a bathtub. The family might have heard the same account 10 times, but it can be just as interesting the 11th time if the teller makes it so with his or her technique, she added.  “I think you have to love the stories — you have to enjoy the stories,” Ingalls said of what it takes to be a good presenter.

“And, of course, being a bit of a ham helps as well.”

Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit Focuses on Sports

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The Mount Airy Museum of Regional History will host the traveling exhibit “Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America” beginning this February.  The traveling exhibit is a Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibition presented by the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Smithsonian Institution, and rural communities statewide. It marks the beginning of a year-long tour throughout North Carolina. The exhibit will be at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History from Feb. 28 to April 11.

“This project’s goal is to provide high quality exhibits to rural communities across our state,” said Museum Executive Director Matthew Edwards. “We were the inaugural site in 2010 with the New Harmonies: Celebrating American Music exhibit which inspired our own traveling luthier’s exhibit.” According to Edwards, this marks the first year the exhibit will have traveled.  Edwards explained the Hometown Teams exhibit’s sports emphasis will allow the museum to tie in other sports, such as racing and the early racing heritage of Surry County. He noted that at one time, Mount Airy was a well-known horse racing venue. He said talks are under way to create a local exhibits of sports heritage and said the museum is also looking at a way to host local hall of fame inductee events.

“We are a history museum but we want to be reaching out to be relevant to everyone’s lives,” Edwards said. “The exhibit is another unique way to reach out to different groups.”  He said parts of the popular White Liquor and Dirt Tracks program will be returning with its racer’s round table featuring those familiar with the early days of the sport.  “With Hometown Teams, our state will uniquely engage the many themes of sports as they relate to our society and culture,” said Humanities Council’s Donovan McKnight, program officer. “North Carolina has a central place in the unfolding history of sports, dating back to ancient Cherokee Indians with anetso, the ancestor of modern day lacrosse. The colonial era in North Carolina introduced the traditional sports of horse racing, fishing, hunting, cockfighting, and footraces which tested skills considered valuable in North Carolina’s early agrarian society.”

The modern era of sports in North Carolina also brings with it professional sports teams like the Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Charlotte Hornets. These professional teams bring not only social entertainment, but economic impact and international attention to North Carolina. Support for MoMS has been provided by the U.S. Congress. Persons may learn more at www.museumonmainstreet.org and www.nchumanities.org.

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