The Kitchen Garden

Hot Time

One last rush of fall peppers

By Jan Leitschuh

Pepper abundance time is now. Take advantage.

Enjoy October’s cooler weather, after this summer’s scalding sweat bath. Pepper plants revel in the easier temperatures, desperately throwing out lots of new fruits this time of year.

If you have a little vegetable plot, and it includes sweet bell peppers — or peppers of any type — chances are your counter is overflowing right now with jalapeños, sweet bells, habaneros, Anaheim chilies and more. 

What to do?

Don’t argue with the prosperity! Peppers of all types are expensive in winter. Chop and freeze for winter fajitas, pizza toppings, veggie soups, Italian dishes and chili, of course. Hot pepper jam is amazing on cream cheese and crackers all winter long. And roast some sweet red bells on the grill, or in the oven.

It’s a funny thing, this crazy fall pepper flush. 

Young pepper plants are warm season plants. The little transplants can be frost-tender in spring, and they dislike cold soils. Not only do they need to be planted well after any frost is possible, their little rooty feet crave warm soils to thrive in.

But once a pepper plant digs in, matures and begins producing, it can segue smartly into fall and handle some chilly nights. Curiously, heat-loving peppers put out one last hearty flush of fruits in the fall, leaving a gardener with an abundance. It’s a plant that can pay itself back in spades come early October.

Didn’t put any peppers in last spring? Local festivals and farmers markets can be a fun way to experience the fall pepper abundance, too. Places like nearby Pittsboro celebrate this Carolina fall flush with a popular “Pepperfest” (held annually, it was in late September this year). Star chefs, brewers, distillers and more, all from central North Carolina, produce pepper-themed dishes, desserts and beverages for the festival-goers, along with live music. Put it on your calendar for next year. 

The Farmers Market in Carrboro features growers like Alex and Betsy Hitt of Peregrine Farms of Graham, roasting peppers in a metal drum on the spot for your feasting pleasure, or to take home in a paper bag to cool down. Our local farmers markets should have fresh peppers for salsas, stuffing, pepper steak and more.

Roasting bell peppers instantly improves the flavor of this common garden veggie, kicking up the interest in any dish. It’s a fall specialty. Kitchen maven Ina Garten’s instructions for pepper roasting are:

1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

2. Place the whole peppers on a sheet pan and place in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the skins are completely wrinkled and the peppers are charred, turning them twice during roasting.

3. Remove the stem from each pepper and cut them in quarters.

To get an even smokier and more complex pepper flavor, try flame roasting, over a grill or even on your stove. Be sure to wear a protective oven mitt and use tongs. To grill, arrange peppers on a medium flame, turning every few minutes, roasting for 15-20 minutes, until the peppers are charred, soft and collapsing in on themselves. Let cool in a paper bag, or steam further in a glass bowl covered with plastic wrap. Peel away the charred skin and discard. Remove seeds and membrane from interior.

Over a stove burner flame, char individually, using tongs — simple for a small-batch recipe needing a flavor up-level. Hold pepper above your hottest flame with tongs and a mitt, turning until fully blackened, 7-8 minutes. A sheet pan and your broiler can also do the trick for a greater number, but watch carefully and rotate as needed.

Process the results for terrific, smoky roasted red pepper tapenade or soups, relishes, dips, pastas, sandwiches, even breakfast scrambled eggs.

To freeze your abundance of peppers, first rinse, dry, then remove the stems, seeds and white interior membranes. Dice or cut into strips, then spread on a tray so they’re not touching. They don’t even need to be blanched (flash-cooked) first. Freeze till firm, then transfer to a freezer-safe zip-top bag with all the air pressed out. Or, if you have a vacuum sealer, seal your harvest into chili-worthy portions. Shake out needed quantities for your cold weather recipes.

If you have a dehydrator, and freezer space is scarce or you like to camp and backpack, it may be a good option. It’s generally too humid in North Carolina to dry peppers outside, as they do in New Mexico and Arizona. Set your oven to the lowest possible temperature and watch carefully throughout the day. This will heat the house but, hey, nights are cooling off. Store in airtight containers.

For a little winter heat, I like to freeze my hot peppers as well as the sweet bells. A teaspoon or two of jalapeños scooped out of the bag adds a kick to many a chilly night meal. While you are chopping, wear gloves and don’t touch your eyes.

Come November, when the colder winds blow, you’ll be glad of a little fire to add to chili, beans, curries and tortilla soups. Or treat yourself to a few jars of homemade pepper jam to serve over the holidays, with cream cheese and crackers. Since you’re already chopping hot stuff, why not go ahead and whip up a batch of fresh pepper salsa straight from the garden? 

Habaneros and the throat-scorching “ghost” peppers are generally too much for most dishes, yet the plants are throwing them out by the handfuls now. Despite the fact that many humans love hot peppers, capsaicinoids, the “heat” in peppers, is an irritant to mammals and insects. We can use that to deter deer, rabbits and some insect pests.

Chop and freeze two cups of the habaneros or ghost peppers as above — besides gloves to protect the fingers, contact wearers may appreciate goggles. Come spring, dump it into a food processor with several cloves of garlic. Add a little water to make a slurry. Consider the goggles again. Once pureed, add the mix to a big, clean bucket and pour four gallons of hot water over it. Cover and let steep for a day, then strain well, through several layers of cheesecloth, into another clean bucket. Add a few squirts of dish soap to help the mix stick. Add to your garden sprayer, and use after a rain or every few days. Don’t spray your actual tomato fruits unless you like them spicy!

Peppers can be slow to come into production in summer. Once they hit their stride, they bear prolifically. The heat and dryness of late July can cause blossoms to drop, thus a gap in fruiting. But come fall, they charge ahead. As we head into late October, it’s usually well worth the effort of tossing a blanket and covering the plants on those first few frosty nights.

Roasted Red Pepper Spread

Red bell peppers, roasted

Garlic cloves

Good olive oil

Red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse, then roast red bell peppers and peeled garlic cloves in the oven at 350 degrees until soft. Cool, then blend in food processor with a little olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper. Adjust quantities of ingredients to your taste. 

Roasted Red Pepper Spread can also be frozen, and it takes up less freezer space than chopped and bagged peppers. Get the fireplace going, crack open a good bottle of wine, and serve with a good chevre and crispy crackers. Consider it dinner.  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of the Sandhills Farm to Table cooperative.

Papadaddy’s Mindfield

Humor Me

These are difficult times. More reason than ever to ease up and have a good laugh

By Clyde Edgerton

In a small town stands a stucco building with two signs out front, one large, one small.

The large sign: Juanita’s Veterinary and Taxidermy Shop.

The small sign: Either Way You Get Your Cat Back.

Humor sometimes is forced to the backseat during this age of monster hurricanes, deadly drugs, poverty, wasteful wealth, anxiety, senseless car deaths, gun deaths, higher suicide rates, declining lifespans . . . WHOA! STOP!

Are the times really that bad? Or are the times being covered in such depth with penetrating media platforms, social and otherwise, that we just think times are worse than ever?

I mean, we at least got past the Middle Ages.

Answer: The times really are that bad . . . and there may be small, smooth ways to move, in your head, against bad times. To find a kind of comfort, a kind of distance from the noise.

Humor lightens the load. In some cases, humor close to home, maybe in the neighborhood.

A man who happens to be blind stands on the street corner. His Seeing Eye dog is peeing on his leg. The man is trying to feed his dog a Fig Newton. A woman across the street sees what’s happening, checks for traffic, walks over and says, “Excuse me, sir, did you know your dog was peeing on your leg?”

“Yep,” says the man.

“Well,” says the woman, “why are you trying to feed your dog a Fig Newton?”

The man says, “When I find his head, I’m gonna kick his ass.”

A small funny story (except to the dog, perhaps).

A different kind of entertainment tends to come from other places, from big obscene movie stories, for example — stories with blazing killer weapons and blatant blasts of blood. These movies seem to compete with our big crazy times, and maybe that’s why fans flock to them. These movies seem to say, “The world is getting crazier and uglier and more violent, and thus citizens deserve crazier and uglier and more violent movies. We are keeping up with the times.”

But crazy times also create the need for us to find more little stories from our own neighborhoods and communities. Sit on your front porch for a while. Watch. Listen. Talk to a neighbor.

Go buy some honey, see what happens.

Recently, a friend said he’d take me to a home where I could buy some good honey. He was a regular visitor. He knocks on the door to a sun porch. Somebody says, “Come in.” Inside, an elderly woman (about my age) is sitting at a small table, putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Her husband is sitting on a couch across the room. I and the couple are introduced, we shake hands. My friend and I take seats, and I ask about the puzzle — something to talk about before I buy some honey.

“Oh, yeah,” says the woman, “I do a lot of puzzles. I’ve probably done a hundred this year.”

I look at her husband, sitting quietly on the couch, and ask him, “Do you do puzzles, too?”

“Oh, yeah,” he says, slowly. “If we didn’t have puzzles, we wouldn’t have nothing to do.”

That was not an answer I could make up or find in a joke book, but for me (as a writer) it was golden — a little local story I’ve been telling my friends and have now written down.

Put the news aside. Talk to a neighbor. Discover a joke, a little story. Fight the bad times that way. Dismiss the cellphone and computer and TV for hours at a time. Hang on to the humor. Put some peanut butter on a piece of toast, add a little honey, go sit on the porch. Watch, listen. Find a story.  PS

Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.

True South

The Child Files

Kids say, well, whatever pops into their blessedly sweet heads

By Susan S. Kelly

Whenever “the world is too much with us,” as William Wordsworth so prettily put it, or current events and crises and confusion threaten to crumple me, I first read Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things,” taped to my computer monitor. Then I pull up YouTube, and Hugh Grant’s voiceover opening lines of Love, Actually. “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport . . .”

Then, naturally, I head for my Child Files.

Next to my Miscellaneous File (because where else do you stash something like “Mules and mushrooms have no gender,” and “New wallpaper smells like Band-Aids”?), my Child File is the thickest. Sure, I dutifully listed all minutiae in their baby albums — first word, first tooth, first haircut — but the Child File contains far more pertinent information. It’s a kind of record, repository, evidence of, the skills my children came by, created, and/or appropriated for survival as adults. Darwin’s theories had nothing on my three kiddoes (and what you told me about yours).

On avoidance: When I lecture my oldest, he clips a pen to his leg hair.

On socialization: “If you miss lunch, you miss everything,” my daughter complained if I scheduled her doctor’s appointment late morning. She also whined if the carpool came too early, thus denying her another op for elementary school drama. In addition, the all-day sulk because she’d forgotten it was a dress-down day and she’d worn dress code to school.

On negotiation/the art of the deal: My son receives a $10 gift certificate at Harris Teeter for a tip, and then tries to sell it to me for $9. Why nine and not 10? I ask. “I’m trying to sweeten the deal,” he says.

My 16-year-old is cleaning out his collection of . . . liquor bottles. His 8-year-old sister wants the cool Absolut vodka bottle, for which he makes her pay him $2 and smell his feet. The amazing aspect to this sibling transaction is that it takes place without my ever being aware. No one pleads; no one fights. Both think they got a good deal. Later, my daughter shows me the newly acquired bottle with pride, and tells me how she came to possess it. With no trace of humiliation.

On growing up: My son and his post-college roommates bickering in a Costco aisle, then resorting to rock-paper-scissors to determine what they’ll buy. As far as I can tell, rock-paper-scissors informed 90% of his decisions at that age.

Other son eating pancake batter because it was the only thing he could afford at that age.

Daughter asking, “How do you know when you’re grown up?” Oldest child immediately answers, “When no one writes your name in your clothes anymore.”

Nephew who composed an outline before he wrote the thank-you note to his girlfriend’s mother.

On higher education: My son’s announcement that his teacher told the class that every Emily Dickinson poem can be sung to the Gilligan’s Island theme song.

Other son’s announcement that he has dropped Statistics 11 for the History of Rock ’n’ Roll.

Son’s wholly serious question the night before second grade begins: “Mom, do I have to take math this year?”

Nephew’s entire essay content on What I Like About People: I like their houses and toys and that’s about it.

On ownership rights: The handwritten note left in the dried-up, sugar-stiffened, flake-crusted Krispy Kreme box containing a lone doughnut: DO NOT EAT THIS IT IS MINE.

On illness: “I blew my nose so hard that air came out of my eyes,” my son informed me.

On coping with ennui, from my daughter: “When I get bored, I either like to organize things or try on clothes.”

From my son, who is tired of me reading all the time: “Watch. I can predict what Mom is reading right now, I’m psychic. She’s reading ‘the.’”

Same son, leaning over lawn mower and breathing in the gasoline fumes: “Watch, Mom. I’m getting dumber.”

The 9-year-old daughter and her friend are playing a game called Make Me Laugh, which involves putting on some music and dancing. How nice, I think; how cute. When I come downstairs, the Make Me Laugh laughter abruptly ceases. Slow dawning of humiliation: The pair are dancing and laughing to my music, finding it all just too, too hilarious.

Older, non-eyeglass-wearing brother to younger brother, who’s finally, gleefully, getting contact lenses: “The first thing the doctor does when they measure you for contacts is give you a shot in your eyeball.”

(Actually, that entry might go hand-in-hand with the sibling argument it interrupted, wherein the two combatants were arguing over who had peed last and therefore had to go back upstairs and flush the toilet.)

Bless the child, then, unwitting antidote for adult existential angst. PS

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.


On mornings such as this — brisk, charged — the mourning doves that line the city wires suddenly take to the air, 50 or more of them in pastel twilight, swirling in wide, graceful circles as if stirred by some unseen hand, the sky some vast, invisible cauldron.

The sight is both delightful and haunting, and you feel as though you are witnessing some kind of living spell, a sacred ritual performed by Earth and her sentient beings.

This spell is called October. Perhaps you know it well?

Red and golden apples

Red and golden leaves

Ashes from the burn pile

Honey from the bees

Three caws from the raven

An acorn from the squirrel

A whisker from the black cat

Aster from a girl

Pansies from the garden

Barley, wheat, and rye

and what’s an incantation without

Grandma’s pumpkin pie

Bats in the Eaves

Spiders spin their webs in the rafters year-round, yet as Halloween approaches, neighbors deck their yards and porches with fake webs and creepy-crawlers, and supernatural beings sure to scare the trick-or-treaters.

But a word on the plastic bats: Why not welcome the real deal instead? Aside from being adorable — they’re like winged squirrels with tiny fox-meets-bear-meets-pig-like faces — bats play a key role in natural pest control.

Consider installing a bat box in the eaves of your house and witness the mosquito population decline come next summer. If you build it, they will (hopefully) come. Especially if you plant night-scented flowers that attract moths and other night-flyers. Best if there’s a nearby water source. And please, for the sake of the bats, no fake webs. Check out the Bat Conservation International website for information and resources:

October sunlight bathed the park with such a melting light that it had the dimmed impressive look of a landscape by an old master. Leaves, one, two at time, sidled down through the windless air. — Elizabeth Enright, Apple Seed and Apple Thorn, 1953

Before the Frost . . .

Dig up summer bulbs and the last sweet potatoes, compost fallen leaves, and in this transient season of light and shadow, plant, plant, plant for spring.

Daffodils, tulips, crocus and hyacinths.

Radishes, carrots and leafy greens.

And to color your autumn garden spectacular, blanket the earth with pansies.

But in October what a feast to the eye our woods and groves present! The whole body of the air seems enriched by their calm, slow radiance. They are giving back the light they
have been absorbing from the sun all summer.
— John Burroughs, Under the Maples

Battle of the Pies

Let’s get right to it: pumpkin or sweet potato? Since my mother never baked either one (or any pie, come to think of it), naturally I love them both. (Yes, I’ll have another slice of that orange whatchamacallit.) But ask me to choose one pie over the other and watch my eyebrows do a funny dance.

I couldn’t begin to describe the differences.

Turns out there are many, and that this infamous Battle of the Pies has caused many a great divide at many a Thanksgiving table.

It’s pie, folks.

But I did a little sleuthing:

Pumpkin pie is spicier, denser, less caloric, decidedly Northern.

True Southerners cry for sweet potato, the sweeter, airier, more nutritious of the pies.

Except, apparently, for my maternal great-grandmother, who reportedly baked two pies at a time, both pumpkin — one for the table, one for my uncle.

“Tommy could eat an entire pie in one sitting,” says my mom of her younger brother. “Nothing made my Grandmother Barlowe happier than the joy in his eyes when he saw her pumpkin pies.”

“Unfortunately,” Mom added, “I just don’t care for them.”

The long and the short of it, in this season of pumpkin-spiced everything, I can’t help but wonder why sweet potato latte isn’t such a buzzword.

Golftown Journal

Finding Peace

The many pleasures of walking a golf course

By Lee Pace

During the last week of August, I turned over to the editors at UNC Press my manuscript of 60,000 words and flash drive of several hundred photographs assembled during a two-year period for a book about walking some of the top golf venues in the Carolinas. The idea was to find 18 courses crossing dimensions from private to resort to municipal that offered outstanding golf and fostered a culture of walking — by lugging, pulling a trolley or taking a caddie. 

And find a good story at every juncture.

I am delighted to report there are legions of golfers across the Carolinas who think of motorized carts as the scourge of the Earth. Herewith is a sampling of the golfers I met and the passion I found.

From Croft Thomas, an Asheville physician and member at Biltmore Forest Country Club: 

“I think it’s presence, honestly. One of the things everyone looks for in life is being purely in the moment, absolutely present. I think some would call it nirvana. Golf is something where you’re 100 percent fully present for it. When you’re hitting your shot, you think of absolutely nothing else. When you walk, I think it prolongs that and allows you to have that presence over three-and-a-half hours. I don’t think I’d feel that with a golf cart. All you’re thinking about is your shot. It’s complete presence and it’s extended by walking.”

From Bill Coore, whose golf design partnership with Ben Crenshaw produced the restoration of Pinehurst No. 2 and the Dormie Club:

“Golf is a game born of nature. I rather doubt that the originators of golf in whatever form ever envisioned the day people would ride around and play the game. Just like sand has been a link throughout golf architecture for 500 years, walking has been a link throughout the history of golf for more than 500 years.”

From Gil Hanse, the architect who designed the new Pinehurst No. 4 and The Cradle short course and says he “absolutely abhors” having to build cart paths:

“What makes golf the greatest game is that our playing fields are so drastically different from one to the other; there is no standardization. Whatever nature and the mind of the architect produce, that’s what we play on. To experience that as you move through a landscape on foot opens you up to seeing so much more. You see the nuances of the design, the subtleties, feel the topography. You can’t experience that in a cart. Your feet aren’t in contact with the ground and you’re moving at a fast speed. When you’re sitting in a cart, your focus is all about, where is my ball?”

From Paul Zizzi, an Atlanta anesthesiologist who’s a member at Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville: 

“Golf is such a nice reprieve from the environment I spend most of my time. It’s all about moving your body and breathing good air and getting sunlight. If you understand how the body works and what it needs, walking becomes much more attractive. For me it’s stress relief, it’s visual stimulation as you see a lot of beautiful sights. And it’s getting sunlight. I love the game of golf, but that’s almost secondary to getting outside and moving my body.”

From Tommy Brittain, a trial attorney and member at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach: 

“Those old gnarly Scots on those moors and heaths before there were any motors were, of course, walking. On the true Scottish links courses, they understand your feet on those fairways and in the rough are part of the story. It’s inexplicably a part of the experience. We’ve lost that in America. It’s typical of us to take over a situation and put some sort of convenience or ease to it. Sadly, that’s part of our culture. But fortunately, we have little pockets of people who have glimpsed why walking is part of the game.”

From John Farrell, director of golf at Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island:

“We have kind of a heightened sense of awareness as we’ve seen the other side to it. (Mandatory carts) is just not the way to do it. If you’re physically able, the way to play is to walk. It’s the easy way to roll. Here we’re at sea level, the proximity greens to tees is good, it’s better socially, and obviously it’s better physically. There are so many benefits to walking I can’t see why you wouldn’t.”

From Kitty Garner, a member at Charlotte Country Club who with four young children in the 1990s would play quick morning rounds alone once the kids were off to school:

“Coming out early and walking was like finding peace for me. I’d get to the first tee time and walk really fast. I’d finish in a couple of hours and be ready for the next carpool. I didn’t have four hours to play. But I needed that quiet time.”

From Jeff Loh, a regular at Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club as he stands on the 15th tee of the 1921 Donald Ross-designed course: 

“Your heart rate picks up a beat or two on this part of the course. This routing is ludicrously good. They say good wine has a sense of place — terroir. This course has quite the sense of place. It’s unique to the Sandhills. When it was all Bermuda (before Kyle Franz restored the native areas in 2012-13), it could have been in Connecticut, it could have been anywhere. And to appreciate it more, you walk.”

From Dr. John Ellis, an orthopedic surgeon and former president at the Country Club of North Carolina who helped draft an initiative encouraging walking: 

“We developed a policy that said we think walking is a part of the game and should be allowed. You can really enjoy the game walking. As a doctor, obviously it’s the right thing to do for your health. We realized we would lose some income on the carts but felt it was the right thing to do. Allowing walking better met the needs of our members, which is what a private club is supposed to do anyway.”

From Joe McCullough, who joined Pinehurst Country Club in 2012 after hearing about the “Walking Club” that allowed members to walk the resort’s nine golf courses during certain times while restrictions were placed on resort guests:

“Our first month in town, the club had an orientation meeting and one of the pros said the Walking Club no longer existed. I panicked. I thought I’d made the biggest mistake in my life. The young man quickly said not to worry, they now allowed unrestricted walking. I thought, ‘Man, I’ve just won the lottery.’”

From Hayes Holderness, who lives in Greensboro and travels the world walking courses as a member of the Golf magazine rating panel, on the yin and yang between walkers and riders on the first tee: 

“Someone might say, ‘Oh, you’re going to be anti-social and walk. I say, ‘You’re the one being anti-social. You’re welcome to join me walking.’ It’s good-natured kidding, no one gets upset about it. But the truth is, we can talk a lot more if we’re walking. The entire foursome can talk. If everyone’s in carts, you mainly talk to your cart mate.”

From Dick Deal, former president at Secession Golf Club in Beaufort, South Carolina, an all-walking club: 

“I used to ski a lot in the winter and would walk my home course at Fairfax Country Club to get my legs in shape for the winter. We had a large cadre of walkers. Another group was the big, fat guys who sat on their rears, rode carts and had heart attacks. When you walk, you get a sense of the wind and the firmness of the ground. All the elements play into your mind. You’re at one with the golf course; you’re not separated by some noisy mechanical device.”

And from Dr. Julian Laing, the town doctor in the fictional Scottish village of Burningbush in Michael Murphy’s 1972 book Golf in the Kingdom

“For every theory ye propose about the improvement o’ the game, I’ll show ye how the game is fadin’ away, losin’ its old charm, becomin’ mechanized by the Americans and the rest o’ the world that blindly follows them. Look at the crowded links , the lack o’ leisure , the hurried startin’ times, the ruination o’ the old clubs where ye could gather with your friends and enjoy some good conversation. I see the distorted swings, the hurried rounds, and now the electric carts tae ruin the courses and rob us of our exercise. PS

Lee Pace’s book tentatively titled Good Walks will be published in 2020 by the University of North Carolina Press.

Out of the Blue

Thinking Inside the Box

The strength in the things that remain

By Deborah Salomon

Generally speaking, I’m not a sentimentalist. I’ve kept hundreds of photos, a drawerful of greeting cards (most handmade), a few documents, certificates, passports, yearbooks and a 100-year-old Egyptian scarab tapestry with an acquisition story rivaling The Bridges of Madison County.

My father saved a trove of World War I memorabilia, including photos taken on the battlefields of France where he drove an ambulance, his dogtags, letters, enlistment and discharge papers. Luckily, one of my grandsons is a history buff. He received them enthusiastically.

Other than that, I don’t hoard mementoes, perhaps because my life has not been storybook. However, at each downsizing I confront two undivestible objects: boxes.

My mother guarded the heavy metal fireproof “lockbox” like a lioness does her cubs. She hid it at the back of a closet often — why I’ll never know — with the key inserted in the lock.

Year after year, she would remind me, “After I’m gone, you’ll find such-and-such in the lockbox.” That such-and-such went beyond the expected insurance info, faded snapshots and birth certificates. She kept checks from closed bank accounts and a zippered autograph book from Woman’s College, Greensboro, 1924. I’m not sure autograph books are still made. Also letters from her father with 3-cent stamps, the discharged mortgage for their house. And a ring, with keys to some unknown kingdoms.

I looked for secrets (or cash) but found none. Neither could I figure out why certain items rated the lockbox while others went into a safety deposit box at the bank.

I became its caretaker in 1991, when my mother sold the house and moved to a retirement center. The sight of that greenish metal lockbox held such gravitas, such reproach that I dared not dispose of it even after she died in 2000. The lockbox, now almost empty, followed me several more moves.

My father’s hobby was woodworking. He excelled at this craft learned at a trade school in Lower Manhattan pre-World War I. He was always making something in his basement shop: big things, like a bookshelf or picnic table, and smaller things like candlesticks turned on a lathe, his most prized possession. I now realize this was his escape, his therapy. When I was small and we lived in an apartment, he used the repair shop at the store where he worked to build a dollhouse (furniture, too) with electric lights, running water in the kitchen sink, wall-to-wall carpet. It was so exquisite I never touched the thing.

He also liked taking movies with his 8mm camera and showing them on his projector. Visitors had to endure watching mini-me sledding down a hill or roller-skating in the park. To store the projector, its attachments and film, he built a compartmentalized wooden case lined in green felt, with a leather handle. Imagine how heavy that box was, fully loaded. Can’t remember exactly when I acquired it — probably when my parents sent a shipment of furniture which I didn’t want from Asheville to Vermont.

Another 20 years passed before I had the degraded film digitized. I tried to give away the projector and camera (but not the case), now a photo buff’s antique, I thought. No takers.

Maybe I should put the lockbox inside the sturdy carrying case (everything my father made was indestructible) and use as a footstool.

Because I could never part with either one. They have a mystical sway I cannot identify.

Few totems or talismans follow an only child of older parents who, totally immersed in their own lives, did not understand the importance of birthday parties or vacations, sleepovers, black patent leather Mary Janes, comic books, bicycles, pets or ice cream sodas at the drugstore. From a distance, other details of the lockbox-home movies era seem disturbing. Perhaps environment stunted my sentimentality. Then why am I so attached to these two empty boxes? Why can’t I take them to Goodwill or put them out for recycling?

Because the bottle found on the beach is as precious as the message secured inside. And because everybody comes from somewhere, rarely empty-handed.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at

Drinking with Writers

The Third Person Project

In search of a buried and forgotten past

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

As his 2011 essay collection Pulphead makes clear, John Jeremiah Sullivan possesses the inestimable skill of sifting through American popular culture to separate the bright, shiny things from the timeless ones. The seemingly divergent essays in the collection ricochet between a hilarious yet stirring portrait of the Tea Party movement circa 2009, a deep dive into the origin myths surrounding Guns N’ Roses’ frontman Axl Rose, and meditations on loneliness, identity, and what is perhaps the most American trait of all: our Protean ability to recast ourselves in different renditions throughout our lifetimes. With this in mind, Wilmington, a city that is always revising and reinventing itself, is the perfect place for John Jeremiah Sullivan to live and work.

On Labor Day, John and I spent a few hours on his back porch, and, over a couple of appropriately named Long Weekend IPAs from Kinston’s Mother Earth Brewing, we discussed Wilmington’s frustrating history of not only shedding the past, but also burying it. Of course our conversation began with the most violent and shameful event in the city’s history: the race massacre of 1898, which is, to this day, the only successful coup d’état in American history, and something the city largely ignored for over a century. As John puts it, in Wilmington “our identity is based on something we can’t talk about.” But John has joined a legacy of writers and thinkers who are willing to research and talk about 1898. From these various investigations and discussions has sprung the Third Person Project, a group of citizens, scholars, students and researchers who are dedicated to scouring the past to uncover Wilmington’s missing and buried moments.

I ask John how the Third Person Project got started. He takes a moment to consider the question, and I imagine his mind cycling back through reams of microfiche and dusty pages of reference books and telephone directories that had been left hidden in basements and tucked away on bookshelves across the city.

“It grew out of the projects that make it up,” he finally says, the first of those projects being The Daily Record project, in which a group of scholars and local eighth-graders searched for editions of The Daily Record, an African-American newspaper that was thought lost to time after white marauders destroyed the printing press in 1898. The group found seven copies of the newspaper, and they scanned them and published them on their website.

“The experience of finding those newspapers and studying them gave us a sense of how thick the wood is here, how much there is to drill,” John says. “Wilmington has an unusual amount of lost history.”

Nowhere is this lost history more apparent than in Wilmington’s African- American life and culture. Take jazz musician Percy Heath, for example. Born in Wilmington in 1923, Heath was a bassist who played alongside icons like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, and was a member of the iconic Modern Jazz Quartet. While it is popularly believed that Heath grew up in Philadelphia, John informs me that Heath did not permanently leave Wilmington behind after the move north. He would return to Wilmington throughout his young life, a fact either glossed over or altogether absent from jazz history.

“Percy Heath played in the marching band at Williston,” John says, his voice edging toward an exasperated laugh. “And he was the class president! Every rock you turn over in Wilmington has a story like that.”

Another story is that of Charles W. Chesnutt, an author who was born in Cleveland and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and who, by the turn of the 20th century, was the most celebrated African-American writer in the country. His seminal work, The Marrow of Tradition (1901), is probably the best-known fictional portrayal of 1898, even though its portrait of white terrorism effectively ended Chesnutt’s career.

Because Chesnutt spent his adult life in Cleveland, scholars have long wondered why he chose to fictionalize the events of 1898, especially because doing so exposed him to critical peril. It has been assumed that Chesnutt’s childhood in Fayetteville and his ties in eastern North Carolina are what made the events of 1898 so important to him, but John has found a more direct connection: Chesnutt’s uncle was a man named Dallas Chesnutt, who left Fayetteville and settled in Wilmington in 1876. Dallas Chesnutt forged a career as a postal worker, but he also had a second career as a printer. What did he print? It turns out he was the printer of The Daily Record, the newspaper the white mob set out to destroy by burning Dallas Chesnutt’s printing press in 1898. John argues that Charles Chesnutt’s interest in Wilmington’s coup d’état was not simply historical, cultural or political; it was deeply personal.

John points out that the 1898 race massacre was not the beginning of Wilmington’s attempt to unwind the positive changes brought about by Reconstruction. He recently discovered that the Confederate memorial statue in Wilmington’s Oakdale Cemetery is one of the very first, if not the first, Confederate statues in America, erected only a few years after the end of the Civil War.

Considering the milestones in Wilmington’s racial history — the erecting of what could be the nation’s first Confederate monument, the 1898 race massacre, the battles over integration, and the Wilmington Ten — John argues, “If it’s possible to be the anti-conscience of the South, Wilmington is, but we can reverse the polarity of that.” He smiles and looks into his backyard, the weight of what he has just said seeming to settle over him, the clouds that presage Hurricane Dorian not yet on the horizon.

“But that may be the thing I love most about Wilmington,” he says. “People who live here now can take a hand in it. I have a funny feeling that what happens in Wilmington — when it comes to the political destiny of the South and this country’s struggle with racial equality — somehow it matters what we do here.”  PS

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.


October Books


Cilka’s Journey, by Heather Morris

Author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz returns with a novel about beautiful Cilka, who is 16 years old and forcibly separated from the other women prisoners at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. When the camp is liberated Cilka is charged as a collaborator and sent to a Siberian prison camp, where she begins to tend to the ill, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions. From child to woman, from woman to healer, Cilka’s journey illuminates the resilience of the human spirit and the will to survive.

The Giver of Stars, by Jojo Moyes

In the late 1930s, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) developed a number of projects intended to provide employment opportunities for unemployed artists, writers and craftsmen. One of those projects was the Pack Horse Library Initiative in which horsewomen picked their way along snowy hillsides and through muddy creeks with a simple goal: to deliver reading material to Kentucky’s isolated mountain communities. In The Giver of Stars, Moyes has brought to life the amazing, funny, adventurous stories of a few of these trailblazing women. Lovers of historical fiction will devour this story of a little-known piece of U.S. history.

Holding on to Nothing, by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

In luminous prose, Shelburne brings us a present-day Appalachian story in the tradition of Lee Smith, Silas House and Ron Rash, cast without sentiment or cliché, but with a genuine and profound understanding of the place and its people. Lucy Kilgore has her bags packed for her escape from her rural Tennessee upbringing, but a drunken mistake forever tethers her to the town and one of its least-admired residents, Jeptha Taylor. Their path is harrowing, but Lucy and Jeptha are characters to love, and readers will root for their success in this debut novel so riveting that no one will want to turn out the light until they know whether this family will survive.


Notre-Dame, by Ken Follett

In this short, spellbinding book, international best-selling author Ken Follett describes the emotions that gripped him when he learned about the fire that threatened to destroy one of the greatest cathedrals in the world — the Notre-Dame de Paris. Follett tells the story of the cathedral, from its construction to the role it has played throughout its history. He reveals the influence it has had on cathedrals around the world and on the writing of one of his most famous novels, The Pillars of the Earth. Follett will donate the proceeds from the book to the charity La Fondation du Patrimoine.

Tell Me a Story, by Cassandra King Conroy

Cassandra King was leading a quiet life as a professor, divorced “Sunday wife” of a preacher, and debut novelist when she met Pat Conroy. The two courted and married, and now Cassandra King Conroy looks back at her love affair with a natural-born storyteller whose lust for life was fueled by a passion for literature, food and the Carolina low country that was his home. As she reflects on their relationship and the 18 years they spent together, cut short by Conroy’s passing at 70, Cassandra reveals how the marshlands of the South Carolina low country ultimately cast their spell on her, too, and how she came to understand the convivial, generous, funny, and wounded flesh-and-blood man beneath the legend — the original Prince of Tides.

Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers: A Little Book of Whimsy and Wisdom, from the New York Public Library

What did people do before Google? They asked a librarian. In this book, published from the archives of the New York Public Library, questions asked from the 1940s to the 1980s and the librarians’ answers are examined. For example, in 1965 a patron asked what “higher water” meant, curious if the term referenced American Indians. The reply was that they didn’t know what “higher water” meant, but then went into a brief discussion on Hiawatha. One of The New Yorker’s best-known and beloved illustrators, Barry Blitt, has created watercolors that bring many of the questions hilariously to life in a book that answers, among other questions, “What kind of apple did Eve eat?”

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA, by Amaryllis Fox

Fox was in her last year as an undergraduate at the University of Oxford when her writing mentor, Daniel Pearl, was captured and beheaded. Galvanized by this brutality, Fox applied to a master’s program in conflict and terrorism at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where she created an algorithm that predicted, with uncanny accuracy, the likelihood of a terrorist cell arising in any village around the world. At 21, she was recruited by the CIA. Her first assignment was reading and analyzing hundreds of classified cables a day from foreign governments and synthesizing them into daily briefs for the president of the United States. Her next assignment was at the Iraq desk in the counterterrorism center. At 22, she was fast-tracked into advanced operations training and was deployed as a spy under non-official cover — the most difficult and coveted job in the field — as an art dealer specializing in tribal and indigenous art and sent to infiltrate terrorist networks in remote areas of the Middle East and Asia.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants, by Bill Bryson

Bryson proves himself, once again, to be an incomparable companion as he guides us through the human body — how it functions; its remarkable ability to heal itself; and, unfortunately, the ways it can fail. Full of extraordinary facts (your body made a million red blood cells since you started reading this) and irresistible Bryson-esque anecdotes, The Body will lead you to a deeper understanding of the miracle that is life, in general, and you, in particular. As Bryson writes, “We pass our existence within this wobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted.” The Body will cure that indifference with generous doses of wondrous, compulsively readable facts and information that is as addictive as it is comprehensive.


Roar Like a Dandelion, by Ruth Krauss

This oh-so-cute alphabet book from the author of The Carrot Seed is filled with gems of playful, sage advice, including “jump like a raindrop” and “kick away the snow and make spring come.” Perfect for story time or even graduation giving, Roar like a Dandelion will be a read-aloud favorite. (Ages 4-6.)

The Scarecrow, by Beth Ferry, illustrations by the Fan Brothers

Sometimes friends come from the most unlikely places, and in this sweet story with stunning illustrations, Scarecrow finds a friend one would assume to be an enemy. A perfect read-together story for any time of the year, The Scarecrow is sure to become a classic. (Ages 3-6.)

Thundercluck: Chicken of Thor, by Paul Tillery IV and Meg Wittwer

Thundercluck, the chicken with the power of Thor, is BWACKKKK in this second hilarious adventure from author/illustrator team of Tillery and Wittwer. Half mortal. Half god. All chicken. It’s perfect for fans of Wimpy Kid or Dogman. (Ages 8-12.)

Malamander, by Thomas Taylor

Herbert Lemon works as the lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus Hotel and one day, among the lost umbrellas and trunks, he finds himself face-to-face with a lost girl. The girl, Violet, leads Herbert on a wild journey through his unusual town, where the pair encounters a powerful old woman with spying capabilities, a top hat-wearing book-recommending monkey, a 12-year-old mystery and an aquatic monster. A fun mystery with quirky humor, Malamander is perfect for that sophisticated young reader who appreciates a little dark humor. (Ages 10-14.)

Allies, by Alan Gratz

From land, air and sea, Allies follows the lives of four young people through the 24-hour period that will forever change their lives and the lives of so many others in this masterpiece by the ever-amazing historical fiction master Gratz. Fans of all ages can meet the author Monday, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m., at The Country Bookshop. This event is free and open to the public. (Ages 12 and up.)  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally


Butterfly Effect

Chaos Theory revisited

A flash of yellow

flits across my window

Then another

and another

Cloudless sulphur butterflies

winging their way

once again

to southern warmth.

Do they know

they are fleeing

for their lives?

Do they know

a single wing flutter

has the power

to create or destroy

a tornado far from

the wing.


unaware as their instincts

propel them on.

As I watch from my window

I wonder how each breath

I take or don’t take

how each word I say

or don’t say

affects someone

or something

somewhere in my world

or the next.

— Patricia Bergan Coe

A Page Out of History

The greatness of Walter Hines Page

By Bill Case

The presidential election of 1916 was a close thing. Had Republican challenger Charles Evans Hughes carried California, a state he lost by a mere 3,700 votes, he would have become president. But Hughes lost to the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, who won re-election for a second term.

Wilson spent the bulk of his first term steering America clear of the bloodbath of World War I, which by Election Day had raged over Europe for 2 1/2 years, leaving millions dead in its wake. The president’s aversion to American involvement in the conflict was reflected in two catchphrases used during his 1916 campaign: “America First” and “He Kept Us Out of War.” Wilson’s hands-off strategy was popular with a majority of voters, and led to his narrow electoral victory.

However, a growing number of Americans felt that Wilson’s neutrality policy was wrongheaded — that it favored autocratic and conquest-driven Germany over democratic allies Great Britain and France. Doubts magnified following Wilson’s response to a German U-boat’s May 1915 sinking of the unarmed British ocean liner Lusitania with 128 American passengers aboard. While the president condemned the attack, his tepid statement — “We are too proud to fight” — struck many as alarmingly weak. But few in his administration spoke in opposition, as Wilson tended to shun those who disagreed with him.

One member of the inner circle who dared to question the president’s approach was Walter Hines Page, America’s ambassador to Great Britain. Wilson had appointed his longtime confidant to the prestigious post (previously occupied by several presidents) in 1913. Page’s selection was not based on his diplomacy experience, since he had none. It had more to do with rewarding the native North Carolinian for his role in aiding Wilson’s political advancement over a 30-year period.

It was presumed the ambassadorship would provide the 57-year-old Page a mostly trouble-free conclusion to a remarkably eclectic career that had included successful turns in academia, journalism, publishing, social reform, public policy advocacy and farming. But the advent of the war threw pleasantness aside and caused damage to the collegial relationship of the two men. The ambassador considered it his duty to inform the president of British (and his own) disapproval with the administration’s failure to act more decisively toward Germany — especially regarding the Lusitania disaster. His fault-finding missives from London irritated Wilson, who complained that Page “seemed more British than the British.” A degree of frost formed over their relationship.

Page was born in 1855 in a small settlement in Wake County, North Carolina, that eventually became the city of Cary. His father, Allison Francis (Frank) Page, founded the town. A rugged, God-fearing Methodist, Frank Page made a small fortune extracting turpentine from pine trees and sawmilling them into lumber. Standing an impressive 6 feet 5 inches, he commanded respect bordering on awe. Walter’s mother, Catherine, was of a more intellectual bent, usually observed with a book in her hands.

Walter, nicknamed “Wat” in his youth, grew up during the Civil War, and its deadly turmoil left a lasting mark. When he was 9 years old a train stopped at the local station and a wooden box was dropped on the platform. The boy was told the box was “Billy Morris’s coffin and that he had been killed in a battle.” There were more to come.

The tall, gangling, curly-headed boy was viewed as something of a dreamer by his parents. An avid reader like his mother, he often hiked in the woods with just a book for companionship. His parents steered their scholarly son in the direction of the ministry, sending the 16-year-old to Methodist-run Trinity College, located in the backwoods of Randolph County (later the school moved to Durham and was renamed Duke University).

Wat was miserable at Trinity, and after an unhappy year transferred in 1872 to another Methodist school, Randolph-Macon College, in Ashland, Virginia. “It was at Ashland that I first began to unfold,” Page would later remark. “Dear old Ashland!”

Randolph-Macon boasted outstanding and broad-minded professors, and under their tutelage, Page mastered Greek, Latin and English literature. He thrived in the school’s heady intellectual environment, and evolved into a skeptic of religious orthodoxy, jettisoning any notions of joining the clergy. “I’m damned if I’ll become a Methodist preacher,” he told his father. After a disappointed Frank refused to pay for further tuition, Walter self-financed the remainder of his education.

In 1876, Page was one of 21 students gaining admittance to America’s first graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. Initially, he flourished in the intense regimen, but by the midterm of his second year, he had become bored with the nuances of Greek and Latin, disparagingly calling himself a “Greek drudge,” and left without completing his course of study.

Page’s disenchantment with classical languages did not extend to English literature. In 1878, he spent an enjoyable summer teaching it at the University of North Carolina. When he wasn’t asked back to Chapel Hill, he moved on to another teaching position in Louisville, Kentucky.

Visualizing a career in journalism and harboring “dreams and aspirations” of owning and editing a magazine, he invested $1,000 and became half-owner and the editorial writer of a fledgling Louisville weekly called The Age.

Unfortunately, it folded in June 1879, barely three months after his investment. Undaunted, Page combed his native North Carolina looking for “any sort” of journalistic position, but, as he ruefully put it, “journalism didn’t seem in any hurry to make up its mind to admit me.”

During a summer stay in Cary, Page fell in love with Alice Wilson, whom he’d first met as a teenager. The smitten couple became engaged during the 1879 Christmas holidays, postponing marriage until Page could obtain gainful employment. At the same time his father pulled up stakes in Cary and moved 68 miles south to the settlement of Blue’s Crossing in rural Moore County, where he had acquired a vast pine forest covering thousands of acres.

The elder Page began harvesting products from the trees just as he had in Cary. He established an array of related operations to bring the products to market. By damming up a creek to power his sawmilling operation, he created Aberdeen Lake. Frank Page constructed a railroad from his logging sites into Blue’s Crossing and on to Southern Pines. His entrepreneurial activities helped jumpstart development in the settlement, which became incorporated as the town of Aberdeen in 1888.

Frank and Catherine Page and most of their eight living children (but not Walter) would build homes on or near “Page Hill” overlooking Aberdeen. Among the offspring who achieved success in Aberdeen and beyond, Robert won election as a United States congressman; Henry was appointed food commissioner by President Herbert Hoover; Frank Jr. served as chairman of North Carolina’s Highway Commission; Julius (Chris) was a respected businessman in Aberdeen; John became a doctor; Emma taught for 50 years at the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School (now UNC Greensboro); Mary was a family historian and charitable benefactor; and Jesse became an ordained Methodist minister — the calling rejected by his brother Walter.

Unable to find his footing as 1880 loomed, a breakthrough occurred in January when Walter Page landed a job as a reporter at a St. Joseph, Missouri, newspaper, The Gazette, contributing all kinds of articles “from stockyard reports to political editorials and heavy literary articles.” After five months, the publisher promoted young Page to editor-in-chief and raised his salary, giving Walter and Alice the wherewithal to tie the knot in November 1880. Hoping to parlay his knowledge of the South into his own cottage industry, Page wrote to several Northern newspapers, advising them of his intention to travel, observe and write about the post-Civil War South. “I was going to send them my letters,” Page wrote later, ”and I prayed heaven that they’d print them and pay for them.”

His Southern ramblings of 1881 proved educational. He observed that Oxford, Mississippi, “still slumbers from the narcotic influences of slavery,” contrasting it with bustling Atlanta, which “had not quite so many aristocratic shackles.” Though acknowledging that Northern capital investment and industry formation would certainly help the somnolent South, Page’s wanderings convinced him real advancement could only occur by “way of agricultural improvement,” and “popular and practical education.” He felt the region needed an infusion of cultural literacy, noting that “the poets, the novelists, the magazines, and the newspapers have done more than all the schools to stimulate the intellectual life of New England.”

Page’s letter-writing gambit succeeded. The big-city papers printed his submissions and paid for the privilege. “I had money in my pocket for the first time in my life,” he recalled. Moreover, the essays impressed the editor of the New York World, who offered Page a correspondent’s job with the paper. He accepted and headed north. His beat included congressional hearings regarding tariff measures as well as the tariff commission itself.


Page’s coverage of the commission brought him to Atlanta in 1882, where he visited his friend Edward Renick, the law partner of 26-year-old Woodrow Wilson. After being introduced, the two men engaged in a discussion regarding the merits of protectionism versus free trade. Dazzled by Wilson’s keen insights, Page urged the young lawyer to express his views before the commission. According to Wilson, Page promised him “a good notice in his letter to the World.” Believing he had discovered a budding political star, Page would gush to a colleague that Wilson “has one of the finest minds in America. Keep your eye on him!”

When the World changed ownership in May 1883, Page resigned and returned to North Carolina hoping to personally own and edit a publication in his home state. With financial help from his father, he launched a weekly newspaper in Raleigh, The State Chronicle. It covered statewide politics, industrial progress and social reform efforts. Page’s editorials lauded Democratic presidential candidate Grover Cleveland and derided local politicians as “small men” holding obsolete and parochial views.

The paper proved unprofitable, however, and in February 1885, Page ceded its control to Josephus Daniels (who would later buy Raleigh’s principal newspaper, the News and Observer), and retreated to New York. Though still revering North Carolina, the frustrated Page abandoned thoughts of making a living there. He told his father, “there is no (use) in my trying to do anything down south anymore. I have proved disastrous every time.”

Comfortably ensconced in Manhattan with Alice and two toddlers, Ralph and Arthur (who would later be joined by two more children, Frank and Katharine), Page penned freelance articles for magazines like The Atlantic and Harper’s Magazine mostly pertaining to the South and national politics. He was becoming, as one biographer put it, “a self-appointed but recognized ambassador from the South to the North.”

One series of four pieces, the “Mummy Letters,” brought him particular attention. The theme was that the powerbrokers in North Carolina — the “mummies” — had chosen to glorify the “Lost Cause” of the war rather than focus on steps necessary for the state’s recovery. Page suggested this was why “the most active and energetic men born in North Carolina have gone away (like himself).” Some back home castigated Page, accusing him of Yankee leanings, but the state’s progressive elements welcomed his criticism.

Page rose to prominence in New York’s magazine scene — a noteworthy accomplishment, since many in the Northeastern intellectual establishment looked upon Southerners as backward. In 1891, he became the editor of The Forum, a journal appealing to the well-educated elite of the city. While a struggle for control of the magazine in 1895 resulted in Page’s departure, he landed on his feet in Boston as the editor of The Atlantic — the magazine industry’s gold standard — and its book-publishing parent, Houghton, Mifflin & Company. As editor, Page cultivated the era’s top fiction writers, and expanded Atlantic’s treatment of political topics such as American imperialism and the perils of unregulated monopolies. At Page’s behest, his friend Woodrow Wilson contributed three public policy articles.

Page’s gravitation toward national politics did not deter him from expounding on a pet concern: Southern educational reform. He spoke on the subject in Greensboro at the Normal School’s 1897 commencement exercises. In his eloquent “Forgotten Man” speech, which served as an important catalyst for educational reform in North Carolina, Page maintained that the state had failed to develop its most valuable resource, “the people themselves . . . forgotten and neglected.” He decried North Carolina’s long history of providing scant resources to educate the less fortunate. These were the people whom “both the politician and the preacher have failed to lift.”

Though sitting in one of publishing’s most prestigious editorial chairs, Page still longed to be his own boss. He resigned from The Atlantic in 1899 and, after a brief misbegotten adventure with McClure’s Magazine, ventured into the book publishing business with Frank Doubleday in New York. Doubleday, Page & Company started small, but grew quickly. Page enticed prominent men of letters like Theodore Dreiser, Booker T. Washington, Rudyard Kipling and Upton Sinclair to join the publisher’s list. Woodrow Wilson’s book The New Freedom was sold under the Doubleday, Page umbrella. The company published a magazine, The World’s Work, which became Page’s primary focus.

Sons Ralph and Frank would follow their father into journalism. Ralph wrote a successful book as well as articles for The World’s Work. Frank became an editor.

Page’s partnership with Doubleday relieved him from financial distress. He was no millionaire, but he could afford a two-story cooperative apartment in the city, a home on Long Island, servants, private schools for the children, and golf.

Meanwhile, Page continued to assist Woodrow Wilson’s political advancement. He came to his fellow Southerner’s aid in 1910 when Wilson, then the president of Princeton University, successfully ran for governor of New Jersey. Wilson’s meteoric political rise was capped by his election to the presidency two years later. Page played a significant role in Wilson’s presidential campaign, raising money and providing reams of favorable publicity in The World’s Work. Following the election, Wilson met with Page to obtain the latter’s advice regarding prospective administration appointments. The Washington rumor mill speculated that The World’s Work editor would soon be appointed either secretary of Agriculture or secretary of the Interior.

Though pleased to be in the mix for a top spot, Page, by then 57, was also exploring the acquisition of a farm estate back in Moore County. Sons Ralph and Frank had gravitated there, starting a farm cooperative sales and development business. With Washington less than a day’s train ride from Moore County, Page figured, if tapped for a Cabinet post, he could commute to the Sandhills, assist his sons, and visit Page family members in Aberdeen.

While awaiting word from the president-elect, Page and his wife rented a cottage in Pinehurst, the town formed out of Moore County pine barrens by James Walker Tufts, who purchased the land, denuded by Frank Page’s logging operations, in 1895. After Walter Page arrived in Pinehurst in February 1913, he canvassed available area properties fitting his farm estate requirements and found an ideal spread 2 miles southwest of Pinehurst. With lightning speed, he struck a deal to buy it. The Pinehurst Outlook reported, “Dr. Walter Page, editor of ‘World’s Work,’ has purchased a thousand acre farm . . . upon which he will build a winter home.” Page hired an architect, who set to work designing a two-story Georgian brick house. Construction was soon underway.

Page contemplated sanguine times ahead at the farm off Linden Road he would call “Garran Hill,” where he planned to grow peaches. (The estate was renamed “Hollycrest” by a subsequent owner.) But on March 26, 1913, now-President Wilson threw the would-be country squire a curveball. Instead of the anticipated Washington Cabinet post, Wilson offered Page the position of ambassador to Great Britain. The surprised Page harbored misgivings over the prospect of leaving America for an extended period — including the postponement of his foray into North Carolina country life — but understood the ambassadorship was a glamorous assignment, just not the one he had anticipated. He agreed to serve, and boarded the ocean liner Baltic sailing for England on May 15, 1913.

“Here I am going to London to talk international affairs with the men who rule the British Empire,” wrote Page while aboard ship, “and I am to dine with the King and Queen on May 30 . . . I feel as if I were going on a great adventure.”

Page got along famously with the bluebloods in London’s highest places: royalty, members of Parliament, and most especially Sir Edward Grey, the foreign minister, who would become a close personal friend. However, Page had not anticipated the financial strains of the ambassadorship. Entertainment and housing expenses were costing him $35,000 annually out of his own pocket. “It is an enormous thing,” he told son Arthur, “and of course, bankrupting.”

Page regarded it his responsibility to provide the president unvarnished British reaction to U.S. policies. One such example occurred when Congress enacted legislation in 1912 exempting American ships from the payment of tolls when passing through the Panama Canal. An outraged British government claimed this measure breached a treaty providing that ships of all nations would be treated equally in their use of the canal. Page’s September 13, 1913 letter to Wilson cited “the dishonorable attitude of our Government about the Panama Canal tolls . . . We made a bargain — a solemn compact — and we have broken it.”

Wilson agreed with Page’s view and appreciated the ambassador’s hard-hitting assessment. “Your letters are like a lamp to my feet,” responded the president. Wilson persuaded Congress to repeal the exemption.

Throughout the first year-and-a-half of Page’s ambassadorship, Wilson expressed delight with his friend’s erudite correspondence. “I hope that Walter Page’s letters will be published. They are the best letters I have ever read!” exclaimed the president. “I get more information from his letters than from any other source.”

The outbreak of World War I in July 1914 aggravated the manifold burdens of Ambassador Page’s office. London-based Americans, fearful of being caught in the middle of the war, were leaving England in droves, requiring the ambassador’s assistance. Page also took command over the German and Austrian embassies and dealt with the stranded citizens of those two countries. But the ambassador’s hardest task was to avoid doing anything that would contravene American neutrality toward the belligerents while at the same time conveying his personal sympathy and friendship to Great Britain. It was a dilemma he would struggle with for the next three years. The exhausting duties caused his health to deteriorate as an ulcer flared up, made worse by Page’s incessant smoking.

During the first years of the war, Wilson sought to be an impartial mediator, hoping to obtain peace by seeking common ground between the warring countries. Page considered the president’s impulses noble but naïve. He advised Wilson that the allies would never accept a result that would leave the militaristic leadership intact and in position to wreak more havoc, nor should they.

According to Page, the German leaders, were “another case of Napoleon — even more brutal; a dream of universal conquest . . . Prussian militarism (must) be utterly cut out, as surgeons cut out a cancer. And the Allies will do it — must do it — to live.”

After the Wilson administration objected to Great Britain’s blockade of neutral countries’ shipments into Germany, Page remonstrated with the president to see the issue from the British leaders’ perspective. They are inclined, asserted Page, “to meet all our suggestions, so long as (they are) not called upon to admit war materials into Germany. We would not yield in their place . . . England will risk a serious quarrel with us or even hostilities with us rather than yield.”

Wilson’s reading pleasure dissipated as Page’s increasingly unwelcome correspondence advanced positions out of synch with those of the administration. With his re-election campaign looming, Wilson was determined to do nothing that could draw America into the war or undermine his role as a mediator of peace. The antagonized president ignored his ambassador’s entreaties, other than to warn him through staff “to please be more careful not to express any unneutral feeling either by word of mouth or by letter.”

Page was stunned by Wilson’s failure to comprehend the threat to democracy caused by autocratic Germany. His exasperation grew when the president issued his “we are too proud to fight” statement in response to the sinking of the Lusitania. After the Germans torpedoed another ship with Americans aboard, Page wrote the president in January 1916 that officials in the prime minister’s cabinet had confided their impression “that the United States will submit to any indignity and that no effect is now to be hoped for from its protests against unlawful submarine attacks or anything else.”

American state department diplomats began meeting regularly with their British counterparts without bothering to notify the out-of-step ambassador. This isolation, coupled with the stalemated war, depressed Page. He resigned himself to the possibility he might never return to his Moore County farm. A beleaguered Walter wrote his son Arthur: “The farm — the farm — the farm — it’s yours and Mother’s to plan and make and do as you wish. I will be happy whatever you do even if you put the roof in the cellar and the cellar on top of the house.”

Page did visit America during August and September 1916. While stateside, he lobbied for an opportunity to visit the president. The request was initially resisted, but the president finally agreed to see him on September 23. Although cordial enough, the president stiff-armed Page’s assertion that Germany was the world’s scourge. The ambassador was profoundly discouraged with Wilson’s assessment that the war was “essentially a quarrel to settle economic rivalries between Germany & England.”

Puzzled how the president could possibly view the two countries as morally equivalent, Page expressed pity for a man whose intellectual reasoning he had once acclaimed. He believed that the president’s stonewalling of dissenting voices had rendered him isolated and out-of-touch. “I think he is the loneliest man I have ever known,” he told his third son, Frank.

Wilson assumed his bargaining hand as peacemaker would be strengthened by his re-election, but he was wrong. Two events in early 1917 would end his mediation efforts and draw America into the conflict. In an attempt to starve out its enemy, Germany announced that it would henceforward commit unrestricted submarine warfare against any neutral countries’ ships transporting goods to England, including the U.S. This was followed by British intelligence’s discovery of the “Zimmerman telegram” cabled by the German Foreign Office to the Mexican government. It proposed a military alliance between those two countries in which Mexico would ultimately recover the states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico in the event America entered the war. Americans were outraged at Germany’s treachery, and public opinion suddenly turned in favor of entering the war.

It took another month for Wilson to abandon hopes for peace and ask Congress to declare war, but he finally did so on April 2. Page was elated. “I cannot conceal nor can I repress my gratification we are in the war at last,” he wrote. He felt vindicated that his “letters & telegrams . . . for nearly two years” had proved clairvoyant and helped alter Wilson’s pacifistic stance. “I have accomplished something . . . I swear I have.” But the ambassador acknowledged to son Arthur  in September 1917 that having successfully brought America into the fray, “my job is really done here.”

The war dragged into 1918, and American casualties mounted, including Page’s nephew, Allison Page, a U.S. Marine, killed in battle at Belleau Wood.

Page’s health, never robust, got progressively worse. He suffered from hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure and early-stage emphysema. Told he would require six months’ rest, Page wrote Wilson on August 1 and submitted his resignation. When he left London on October 2, he required support on each arm to make it to his private railroad car. During the ocean voyage home, he bordered on delirium, greatly alarming the ship’s doctor. Upon reaching New York, a waiting ambulance rushed him to St. Luke’s Hospital. A further examination added diagnoses of retinal hemorrhages, heart congestion and kidney failure to Page’s mounting woes.

While Page’s condition improved somewhat, he remained very weak. He did, however, relish the announcement of the armistice ending hostilities on November 11. Still hospitalized, he wrote Wilson on November 23 to advise that while he had hoped to come to Washington to tender the president a final report, his health would not allow him to do so. Wilson responded with wishes for a speedy recovery, and hopes for a meeting “when I can see you and catch up with things in a long talk.” Actually, Wilson had been in New York during Page’s hospital stay, but chose not to visit his ailing friend.

On December 11, Page boarded a private railroad car and came home to North Carolina. Literally carried off the train by his son at the Aberdeen station, he remarked, “Well, Frank, I did get here after all, didn’t I?”

Walter and Alice Page did not stay at Garran Hill; Ralph had made the farm his residence. Instead, they rented Currituck Cottage in Pinehurst. Page was reunited with several of his siblings, but his condition declined a week later. He died on December 21 at the cottage. Following its practice of not printing a word about deaths in Pinehurst, the Pinehurst Outlook, coincidentally edited by Ralph, made no announcement of his father’s demise.

But Page’s Christmas Eve funeral at Page Memorial Church and burial at the Page family plot at Old Bethesda Cemetery in Aberdeen did receive international attention. Given his role in ending the “War to End All Wars,” virtually giving his life to the cause, Walter Page was hailed as an American hero. His grave became a mecca, visited by grateful Americans paying him honor. The state built a road to the cemetery to absorb the traffic. Johns Hopkins would honor Page by founding the Walter Page School of International Relations.

Woodrow Wilson proved prescient in claiming that Page’s letters merited publication. Arthur Page, working with biographer Burton Hendrick, and Doubleday Page engineered the publication of a three-volume set of The Life and Letters of Walter H. Page. Readers eager to learn the inside story of the war made the series a best-seller. Woodrow Wilson declined involvement in the project.

In September 1919, Wilson toured the country making speeches in support of a grueling and ultimately unsuccessful effort to promote a League of Nations. Thereafter, he was felled by a debilitating stroke. The president’s wife, Edith, is said to have run the country until the conclusion of her husband’s term. Woodrow Wilson died in March 1921.

Historians have wondered why, given their manifest differences, Wilson never relieved Page of his ambassadorial duties. Perhaps the president was hesitant to sever the last threads of a relationship that over several decades had served to benefit both men.

While Wilson and his administration did not always appreciate Walter Hines Page, England still does. In a vestibule of Westminster Abbey is a sculpture of Page with a testament that reads, “The friend of Britain in her sorest need.”  PS

Pinehurst resident Bill Case is PineStraw’s history man. He can be reached at