Wineka column: A day at the museum offers time for reflection

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 22, 2015

SALISBURY — Terry Holt was like a roving reporter Tuesday, walking with purpose from table to table with a microphone in his hand.

He was searching for memories, so to speak, and he found plenty among the Rowan Museum visitors.

Chuck Jacobs remembered coming back to Rowan County from World War II and realizing there were no good jobs available. He had to move away.

Ruth Pope worked many years as a spinner at Cannon Mills Plant No. 7 in Kannapolis. She took care of 50 frames, she said, and don’t let anyone tell you differently, “It’s hard work.”

Lois Sisk, a teacher for 30 years, said the principal at her first school relied on a “bench of shame” on which misbehaving students were forced to sit during recess. Sisk sent one of her students to the bench of shame once too often, and the girl’s mother didn’t like it.

It so happened Sisk arrived late at her boardinghouse one night, and it was good she did. The mother had been waiting there, planning to beat her up. When Sisk didn’t show, the mother left without getting that satisfaction.

“She (the landlady) told me that woman would have really torn me apart,” Sisk said.

Simple, rich memories such as these were shared Tuesday by residents of Carillon, Liberty Commons, Brookdale, The Laurels, Trinity Oaks and Trinity Living. They had traveled to the Rowan Museum to see the current “Tour of Duty” Vietnam War exhibit and parts of the museum’s permanent collection downstairs.

Upstairs, they had lunch in the Messinger Room — the old courtroom of the 1854 museum building — while Holt, Susan Waller, Brenda Zimmerman and Kaye Brown Hirst shared stories, most of which had a historical or sentimental twist.

Holt recounted how the Sparks Circus used to winter in Salisbury — from 1910-1919 — and how its star attraction, Big Mary the elephant, was executed by hanging in Erwin, Tenn., after she had killed one of her handlers during a parade in Kingsport.

Holt, president of Rowan Museum, also relived the 1930 shootout in downtown Salisbury in which one of the nation’s most notorious criminals, Otto Wood, was gunned down.

Hirst, the museum’s executive director, talked about the days when court was held in this old building, and how a parrot on nearby West Council Street liked to mimic back the announcements of the court bailiff.

Hirst also explained the curiously small gravestone in a corner of the Old Lutheran Cemetery whose inscription says, “Here lies the foot of James Reid.”

It turns out the man lost the foot when it was run over by a train. He lived for many years after that accident, and today  “you can find the rest of his body” in the cemetery at Trading Ford Baptist Church, Hirst said.

With autumn in the air, Hirst spoke of her own childhood days of corn-shuckings, apple-picking and chicken-and-dumpling suppers.

To get the visitors in the mood for Halloween, Waller told a ghost story she had heard once from a woman who lived in the country outside of Rockwell. Thanks to Waller, many in the room will forever be spooked by the sound of a slamming barn door, or maybe any slamming door at all.

After lunch, Holt said it was the museum guests’ turn to share their recollections. Many folks obliged, with Hirst operating a video recorder as they spoke.

Virginia Burleson was one of the first women police officers in Salisbury. She was hired initially as a school crossing guard, then a meter maid, before becoming a mainstay at headquarters. “I met lots of good people and made many friends,” Burleson said.

Burleson also remembered a much different, more vibrant downtown Salisbury when all the main stores were located in the central business district. It was especially pretty at Christmas, and pilots would use Salisbury’s holiday lights as a landmark on flights in and out of Charlotte.

Mary Frances McGee Lipscomb recalled living and working on John Robert Crawford’s farm down at the river and being around horses, cows, chickens, pigs and goats. Her daddy worked cotton, she added.

Celia Summitt, who just celebrated her 101st birthday Sept. 10, said she worked in the alterations department at the Oestreicher store in Salisbury. She was a county girl who was able to stay at the home of a friend in Salisbury.

“It was a good place to work,” she said of Oestreicher’s.

Marvin Park, who grew up in the Shuping’s Mill area of eastern Rowan County, said he lost a brother in World War II, but the war ended without his having to go into combat himself.

“My mother was quite glad of it,” he said.

Randy Smith said his grandfather served in World War I, and he still has one of his medals. His mother taught school in Salisbury  — first and second grades — from 1929 to 1984, and Smith cited a nice little accomplishment of his own: He has been a member of First Baptist Church for 50 years.

Speaking of churches, Jim Misenheimer told about the big rivalry between Organ Lutheran and Grace Lower Stone Reformed churches back in the 1700s. The German sects which had once worshipped together went their separate ways and built their own churches.

The Lower Stone members had purchased their land as early as 1774, but construction was delayed by a small thing called the Revolutionary War, Misenheimer said. One of the original stakes put in the ground to outline the foundation grew into a mighty tree, which flourished on the church grounds and did not come down until recent years.

Mary Adams reported she was among the first African-American nurses at Gaston Memorial Hospital.

“That’s one of the things I’m proud of,” she said.

Jacobs, the Navy man who couldn’t find a job in Rowan County when he returned here after World War II, recalled a transport ship’s delivering him and some fellow sailors to their assignments. They learned that same transport ship was sunk by a Japanese torpedo the next day.

“I was very lucky,” Jacobs said.

“We’re glad you came home safe,” Hirst told him.

Sometimes it’s just good to go around the room with a microphone and listen.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or