History Finds a Home

Taylortown museum preserves town’s heritage

By Audrey Moriarty

It took almost two decades to get there, but in October of 2023, the Taylortown Museum celebrated its one-year anniversary. According to Nadine Moody, volunteer at the museum and a former Taylortown council member, the house where the museum is located — 8263 Main St., in Taylortown — was originally the home of Demus Taylor’s great-granddaughter, Margaret Mangum. Demus Taylor is the founder of Taylortown, and Margaret worked as a teacher at the Academy Heights School, where she taught Moody in third grade. The Mangum home was purchased roughly 20 years ago, when Ulysses Barrett was the town mayor. While the building was intended all along to house a museum, bringing the plan to fruition took time.

If the museum had a little trouble getting off the ground, the house was always busy, serving as a venue for various community events. In the interim a handful of dedicated volunteers decided to begin recording and preserving Taylortown’s history. The group consisted of various members of the community: Gail McKinnon, president of the Historical Society; Jef Moody, vice-president of the Historical Society; Wendy Martin, of the Beautification Committee; Nadine Moody (Jef’s wife); and several others.

Inside the museum are exhibits of old tools, a display of images of the mayors of Taylortown, photos of local church dignitaries, information on the Academy Heights School, and a large “Welcome to Taylortown” banner, featuring Demus Taylor and some local historic sites.

According to McKinnon one of the ongoing projects the volunteers have begun is an “obituary book” listing the names of spouses, siblings and children, helping community members fill out family trees. They are hoping to get more input from family members of deceased residents to add to their book and family records. “What I wish we could do is to get each Black community to give us a brief history, because we all know each other and are related somehow,” says Nadine Moody.

Gary Brown, another volunteer, is working on a gravesite webpage, identifying and documenting local graves. High on the list of the museum’s current needs is a computer to house the information they’re compiling. The hope is that visitors to the museum will one day be able to search the collection and family data base. Brown, with Martin’s help and donations from Food Lion and local churches, also operates a food bank every Tuesday at Johnny Boler Park in Taylortown.

Recently the museum had a surprise visit from Paula Hall, Demus Taylor’s great-great-granddaughter. The museum is looking for more items to add to its exhibits, and hopes to get a few old canvas and leather carry bags and wood-shafted clubs — an homage to the work Taylortown residents, especially Demus Taylor, did caddying at the Pinehurst Resort. They’re also in search of a closet or curio cabinet for displays. Nadine Moody says 99 percent of their current exhibits were donated by local citizens and businesses. Homewood Suites donated some tables and chairs after a recent renovation and the museum repurposed them, some for workspace, while others are attractively set with dishes and stemware.

Current plans call for expanding the exhibition space to the upstairs portion of the house. “We are so excited,” says Nadine Moody. “We’re busting at the seams.”  PS

The Taylortown Museum is open to the public on Wednesdays and the first Saturday of the month, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Thursdays for groups, by appointment. You can reach the Taylortown Museum at (910) 215-0744, or by calling the Town Hall at (910) 295-4010.

Audrey Moriarty is the Library Services and Archives director for the village of Pinehurst.



The Unbitter End

On the road less traveled by

By Beth MacDonald

The cruelest thing I have learned about divorce is that I have been left with a poor WiFi signal and a hint of mild road rage.

My husband announced he no longer wanted to be married at some point (when is quite irrelevant at this juncture). I left. Insert real-life game of Mad Libs with four nouns, three verbs, six adjectives, one location and two party favors. Oh, have I’ve got adjectives.

I am now alone. A singular entity in my late 40s, completely unsupervised. I need to reorganize, so I turn to the food triangle I learned in grade school. I think the first thing I need is carbs. Then I realize I’ve made a rookie mistake — wrong triangle. Maslow Shelter to the rescue. My deficiency needs are definitely deficient.

I’m employed by a wonderful nonprofit organization. I love my job. A place to live seems like a good starting point. What can I afford? I go to the farthest end of the Pines, closest to Alaska. It’s beautiful, serene, the perfect place to establish a base camp where the cost of living is low. So low, in fact, that WiFi and sunlight don’t reach the ground. You have to pay extra for sunlight and, even if they offered good WiFi, I couldn’t afford it. Luckily Panera has both carbs (I’m confusing my pyramids again) and free WiFi.

I traded my luxury sports car for a reliable four-cylinder Ford SUV. I used to live 2 miles from downtown Southern Pines. Now, I live a mile down a dirt road out there somewhere. It’s beautiful. I had to simplify my life and, truthfully, loved the process. I don’t mind coaxing my four little SUV hamsters up at 7:30 a.m. to get me to work. The five of us think very hard about the decisions we make at the Pinehurst Traffic Circle.

My organization allowed me to rent office space in Southern Pines, so I can at least work at a real desk and get exposure to Vitamin D. Every day I enjoy a lovely 30-minute commute and private concert brought to you by Ford Motor Co. I practice being the lead vocals, backup singers and band (air guitar, keyboard, drums). I think I might be nominated for a Grammy by my fellow commuters queued up to get on the Traffic Circle. I don’t lip-sync — it’s full-on, live carpool karaoke.

I take Midland Road to Pennsylvania Avenue every day. The minute I make that right turn I am behind the let’s-go-23-mph-in-a-35-zone person, who I follow all the way into downtown. Every day. Every. Day. My iTunes automatically shuffles to Rob Zombie’s “Dragula.” I am now a suburbanite futzing down the road infuriated. I am white-knuckling my steering wheel as I coast past the Police Department slowly enough to make them think I’m avoiding a DUI instead of trapped in a hostage situation. I can’t even breathe until I get to my parking space and unclench my jaw.

That one minor drawback aside, I have otherwise found divorce to be freeing. Marie Kondo would be inspired by my minimalist ways. Buddha would be proud at my level of mellow. I might have found inner peace, even at 23 mph.

My first marriage ended in “till death do us part.” I am familiar with loss — not to minimize it because you can’t. Grief is always “a thing.” We grieve a lot in our lives. We grieve big losses and little losses: death, friendships, our favorite pair of shoes, our wallets. (Who wants to go to the DMV and replace a license?) So, my second marriage went on vacation, and all I got is this lousy WiFi. At least I didn’t lose my wallet.  PS

Beth MacDonald is a suburban misadventurer, author and essayist who often tries to get out of her car without unfastening her seat belt.



A Mission that Rings True

The Village Chapel turns 125

“The Village Chapel has stood here through all these years, with its slender spire, its beautiful proportions, its chaste simplicity, its friendly and devout spirit, to bless and inspire those who come under its influence. Some have been gracious enough to say that the Chapel is the heart of Pinehurst.”    — Dr. Thaddeus A. Cheatham, Pastor, The Village Chapel (1908-1950)

By Steve Woodward

Dr. Thaddeus Cheatham penned the above sentiment upon his retirement after guiding Pinehurst’s first church, The Village Chapel, during a remarkable span of 42 years. His words resonate today, on the eve of the Chapel’s commemoration of its 125th anniversary, which will be formally celebrated on Oct. 29.

Little is known about Cheatham before the Episcopalian priest arrived in Moore County in 1908 but he was the right man at the right time.

The Chapel as it stands today was built in 1924 and held its first service on March 1, 1925. Its roots, however, trace to the establishment of a religious society envisioned by Pinehurst’s founder, James Walker Tufts, and formally organized in 1898 by his close friend Dr. Edward E. Hale, a Unitarian pastor.

The Village Chapel became the heart of Pinehurst long before a “slender spire” towered overhead. Tufts believed that the destination he created to attract refugees from Northern winters would not succeed unless it was held together by something more than a moderate climate. He called it Christian unity and, in pursuing that objective, Tufts and Hale formed one of the first interdenominational churches in the United States.

With the evolution of the Pinehurst Religious Association around 1897, seasonal visiting worshippers began gathering in Pinehurst’s first lodging, The Holly Inn, for Sunday services. In ensuing years, they assembled in the Casino Building, which in that era meant “community center.” Ultimately, a village hall was erected and Sunday worship relocated there — as long as someone could round up a visiting pastor.

A Catholic congregation eventually began meeting for Mass under the same roof, re-enforcing the spirit of unity Tufts sought. As observed by The Pinehurst Outlook, interdenominational worship achieved an “ideal sought by many.”

Cheatham’s arrival stabilized the Sunday schedule and, by 1923, his leadership was inspiring Chapel members to dream of erecting an elegant new building on the Village Green. Unfettered generosity made possible the chapel that would soon be constructed. A frequent visitor, Mary Bruce, initiated the building fund by presenting Cheatham a check for $5,000 ($89,000 in 2023 dollars) from her death bed in New York when he visited after Easter 1923. According to Chapel archives, news of the donation spurred pledges exceeding $40,000 within 20 minutes after Cheatham formed a building committee. Among the donors was Pinehurst No. 2 course architect Donald Ross, already well on his way to fame as one of golf’s premier designers. When Leonard Tufts, James’ son, was advised that cash was flowing in, he donated prime Village Green land. No hearings. No bonds.

When The Village Chapel opened its doors, Pastor Cheatham could not have known that 25 more years of stewardship lay before him. From the second half of the 20th century through the present, the roster of senior pastors has multiplied to 11. Rev. Dr. Ashley Smith became senior pastor upon the retirement after a decade of service of Rev. Dr. John Jacobs in 2022. Smith arrived at the Chapel to serve as associate pastor in 2011.

The Chapel has long been known for its music. In 1988 music director John Shannon oversaw installation of the Chapel’s second carillon. It was equipped with speakers housed in the Chapel’s steeple. This carillon soon became a mainstay in the village. Westminster chimes play each hour. Hymns emanate every three hours. Payne Stewart famously remarked following his U.S. Open victory in 1999 that hearing the bells gently piercing the silence relaxed him as he was teeing off on the 18th hole in the decisive final round.

Robust community support for Village Chapel expansion would repeat across the decades. In 1961, an administrative wing was added. Chapel Hall was christened three decades later. Beginning in 2021, Heritage Hall rose amid the longleaf pines to accommodate the Chapel’s fast-growing youth ministry and was dedicated on Sept. 18, 2022.

The Chapel’s footprint more than ever is tied inextricably to the identity of the village. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the Chapel affirms James Walker Tuft’s legacy and remains a beacon, singularly devoted to its mission.  PS

Steve Woodward resides with his wife, Jackie, in Pinehurst, three minutes away by car from The Village Chapel. He is a recovering journalist who focuses on blogging and managing several community websites, leaving little time for tortured rounds of golf. 



The Pastors of The Village Chapel

Rev. Dr. Edward E. Hale, Unitarian: 1896 – 1903

Rev. Alleyne C. Howell, Episcopalian: 1907

Rev. Dr. Thaddeus A. Cheatham, Episcopalian: 1908 – 1950

Rev. Adam W. Craig, Presbyterian: 1951 – 1959

Right Rev. Louis C. Melcher, Episcopalian: 1959 – 1966

Rev. Charles W. Lowry, Episcopalian: 1966 – 1973

Rev. Henry C. Duncan, United Methodist: 1973 – 1987

Rev. Bobby C. Black, United Methodist: 1987 – 1997

Rev. Edward E. Galloway, United Methodist: 1997 – 2001

Rev. Larry H. Ellis, Baptist: 2001 – 2011

Rev. Dr. John R. Jacobs, Episcopalian: 2012 – 2022

Rev. Dr. Ashley N. Smith, Interdenominational: 2022 – Present

(Source: The Village Chapel)



Didion’s Masterpiece

Judson Theatre presents The Year of Magical Thinking

By Jim Moriarty


Above: Linda Purl and Henry Winkler starring in Happy Days

Right: Andy Griffith and Linda Purl in Matlock

When the late Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking was published in 2005, it instantly became the indispensable handbook for grief and loss. The book, and the subsequent one-woman play that starred Vanessa Redgrave and debuted on Broadway in 2007, was published in October of ʼ05 and won that year’s National Book Award for Nonfiction. It recounts the year following the death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, from a sudden heart attack in 2003, and how that death and her ability, or inability, to process it transforms her reality. The book includes the illness of Didion and Dunne’s only child, their daughter, Quintana, and the play, a masterpiece of storytelling, expands to include Quintanaʼs death from pancreatitis in 2005.

The Year of Magical Thinking, starring Linda Purl, is the middle offering in Judson Theatre Company’s three-play summer festival, and will run from August 4-13 in the intimate McPherson Theater at the Bradshaw Performing Arts Center at Sandhills Community College.

Purl is likely best known to Sandhills audiences as Andy Griffith’s daughter, Charlene, in the long-running Matlock series, or as Steve Carell’s love interest in The Office, where she played the mother of Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer). She also starred as Fonzieʼs (Henry Winkler) girlfriend from Happy Days.

Purl’s intimate relationship with The Year of Magical Thinking began 11 years ago when her close friend, Bonnie Franklin, was set to perform the one-woman monologue but had fallen ill. Franklin suggested Purl replace her and she agreed, but only if she could pass the role back to her friend when she recovered. “So, I started learning it, then my own mother was diagnosed with cancer, terminally,” says Purl. Her mother insisted she continue with the play, even running lines with her daughter quite literally from her deathbed. With her mother gravely ill, Purl decided she’d have to call the director and back out. “I opened my email in the morning and Bonnie had died,” says Purl. “So that was how I came to the role. Pretty intense.”

For Purl, her performances of the play have been a journey like no other. “Besides the fact that it’s a one-person play, you just feel like she (Didion) braved the rapids of how to negotiate some of the most difficult challenges one could ever face in life. It’s a template. It’s a map, and she gave it to us. I’m of an age where you lose people. Death is not a stranger.

“I did the play in Kansas and I was in the middle of the run and I was in the supermarket, and this woman came up to me and she said she’d seen the play the night before and she said, ‘My husband died three weeks ago. I thought I was going crazy and now I know I’m not.’ You want to feel that you’re doing something meaningful. If sharing her journey can be a comfort to someone else, then that’s a good day at work.”

While Purl has now done the play more times than she can recall, it’s never quite the same. “Every time I do it, it feels differently,” she says. “The play, its idea and its wisdom keep revealing itself to me. As an actress, it feeds you, too. It always feels like jumping off a cliff. But I never feel alone up there. I always feel like Joan is right there with me.”

That connection was revealed in her recent performance in London. In a review by Harry Bower for “All That Dazzles,” a theater website that popped up during the pandemic lockdown, Purl is described this way: “She knows every line of this script as if she and it are one. The inflection and delivery of each syllable is carefully measured and delivered with precision for maximum emotional impact. There is a vulnerability and sensitivity to her performance juxtaposed against a stoic bravery painted across her face in broad strokes. She is a force of nature, knowing the perfect moments to demonstrate restraint or let loose with her character’s truth. Her light-touch comic timing completes an extraordinary performance.”

The play’s passionate opening was crafted by Didion just days before its Broadway debut. Sitting and watching rehearsal, Didion looked at director David Hare and asked, “Wouldn’t this be better if it was less about me? And more about them?” And so it became about all of us.  PS

Judson Theatre’s concluding play of its summer festival is The Last Five Years, running August 18-27. Tickets for either of the remaining plays are available at and



The Queen Is Dead,

Long live the king!

By Tony Rothwell

Sounds harsh doesn’t it? But that’s the way it’s been for a thousand years.

As London, and much of the world, prepares for another large helping of English pomp and circumstance, I can’t help thinking back to a cold, gloomy February day in Whitby, Yorkshire. The year was 1952. I was at a boarding school, in a spelling class. We were 9-year-olds. The door opened and in came a teacher who announced he had sad news — King George VI had died. He asked us to bow our heads in a minute of silence, after which he told us that Princess Elizabeth was now our queen.

King George had been an unassuming monarch, rather overshadowed by Winston Churchill in the public eye, and the truth was we didn’t know much about him. Yes, his head was on the back of our pennies and thruppenny bits but we had no real impression of him.

However, matters royal were about to change as year-long preparations were made for the coronation of our new queen. England had had a tough time of it since the beginning of World War II in 1939, and we were still suffering from shortages, rebuilding, even rationing. Now here was something we could all look forward to.

It wasn’t long before the date of the coronation was announced — June 2, 1953. Over a year of preparations lay ahead, and England went into overdrive. Long-made plans were dusted off for the service in Westminster Abbey, the procession, the invitation list and, out in the country, celebrations and street parties were planned in every town and village. Meanwhile, all manner of coronation merchandise was popping up in shops. I still have my treasure trove — a commemorative mug, a special coronation crown coin, first day cover postage stamps, a paperweight, the souvenir programme and BBC’s Radio Times for coronation week, in its original binder.

The big news was when the BBC announced that the coronation was to be televised, though only a handful of people had access to a set. My brother and I had recently watched TV for the first time when the English FA Cup final was shown in a hut in our village to a packed audience. The reception was terrible. Every vehicle that went by produced a snowstorm over the screen, but it was still very exciting. We heard our parents discussing getting a set and did all we could to encourage them. Then suddenly it was there. A beautiful, mahogany, floor-standing piece of furniture containing a tiny 12-inch screen behind double doors placed next to the fireplace in our living room.

The day of the coronation finally came. TV coverage began early, and we were all gathered round the cathode ray tube — my parents, brother Bill, our corgi Taffy and myself — at our house south of Manchester in northwest England with the Radio Times in hand. It perfectly reflected the all-consuming mood of patriotism and coronation-mania the country was experiencing. The pages were devoted to every conceivable aspect: the “Form and Order” of the 2 hour, 50 minute service with the crowning expected at approximately 12:30 p.m.; the symbology of the many trappings of the monarchy; the glorious music and who would be singing; a map of the route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey where a congregation of 7,000 would await the young queen; and, after the service, the much longer route back to Buckingham Palace to be cheered on by the huge crowds who had come from all over Britain.

Even the Times’ advertisements were in on the act. Shell Oil did it with poetry:

Along Pall Mall, along St. James

Old buildings echo with the din

Old streets remember famous names

Lord Byron, Wellington and Gwyn

While Guardsmen’s plumes awake the air

Like pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

Two days later the United States had its moment with a radio tribute to coronation week titled “A Star-Spangled Salute,” starring Burl Ives, Gregory Peck, Sam Wanamaker and Master of Ceremonies Ben Lyon.

My most vivid memories of the day are the arrival of the queen at the Abbey to the ear-splitting acclamation “Vivat! Vivat! Vivat! Regina”; the glorious coronation coach (it was black and white television, of course, but we were assured it was gold); and the massive, Union Jack-waving crowds lining the processional route.

In the year 1066 William the Conqueror was the first monarch to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, and 957 years later, on Saturday, May 6, King Charles will be the 40th monarch to process up the Abbey’s aisle. Once seated on the throne he will have the St. Edward’s crown, made in 1661 for Charles II, placed upon his head, and Camilla, as queen consort, will wear the crown made for Queen Mary in 1911. Incidentally the St. Edward’s crown weighs 4.9 pounds, which will explain the care exercised when it is being placed on Charles’ head.

The contrast between the two sovereigns, mother and son assuming the throne almost exactly 70 years apart, could not be greater — a pretty, sheltered, 25-year-old queen, and a 74-year-old, twice-married king. We are promised a somewhat scaled back service in the Abbey to that of the late queen, the king being sensitive to Britain’s current economic and social climate, but there will be three days of events and concerts and a national holiday on the Monday. For millions of Brits born after June 1953 and seeing their very first coronation, it will be a truly memorable occasion with celebrations up and down the country and glasses raised to the newly crowned sovereign — “Here’s a health unto His Majesty.”

Meanwhile our KCIII commemorative mug has just arrived.  PS

Tony Rothwell moved to Pinehurst in 2017, exchanging the mind-numbing traffic of Washington, D.C., for less traffic, better weather and the vagaries of golf. He spent 50 years in the hotel business but in retirement writes short stories, collects caricatures, sings in the Moore County Choral Society. He can be reached at


Good and Dead

And totally down-to-earth

Story and Photograph by Ashley Walshe

Our neighbors are the best. They’re very quiet, very private — I’ve never actually seen them. But I should mention that they’re also very dead.

Last spring, my husband and I moved into an RV near Lake James as a sort of romantic venture as newlyweds. We live at the end of a private drive shared with other RV-ers (mostly weekend warriors) and a few retirees with swanky prefabs and sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Our view is a little different. Just beyond the camper’s east-facing windows — and I do mean just beyond them — 11 white crosses are staggered among windswept pines, a sparse fringe of mountain laurel and a dusting of vibrant moss. Most of the crosses are wooden, one is broken; a handful are PVC replicas. Two weatherworn headstones blend with the rugged landscape.

The site is decidedly understated. No fencing; no benches; no fancy signage. Propped against the base of a lichen-laced pine, a wooden plank marks “Dobson Cemetery” in hand-painted lettering.

I make it a point to greet the Dobsons each day, same as I would any neighbors. There’s Alexander (d. 1876), who lived to be 83; and Cora J. (obviously dead but stone illegible); and at least 11 others. Lord knows how many bones rest 6 feet below. But I find comfort in the Dobsons’ quiet presence. So far as I can tell, they don’t seem to mind mine. 

My fascination with cemeteries began six years ago while visiting my great aunt in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Shirley was dying of bone cancer, and I was there to help her sort through her worldly possessions. It was a tender time.

While Shirley was facing her mortality in a literal sense, I was navigating a different kind of loss. After supper, I’d venture down the street for a stroll through the city’s oldest cemetery. There, perhaps for obvious reasons, my heartache felt welcome. Yet so did my dreams of a full and happy life. As I wove among the ancient trees and motley gravestones — the living and the dead — my perspective shifted. We’re not here for long. What will we do with the time we’ve got?

Which brings me back to our camper with a view. 

We see our share of white-tailed deer. Birds come and go. But you can imagine we don’t get a ton of human foot traffic back here. We’d had none, in fact, until the other morning.

We were dining on the back deck when our neighbor — a live one from a few lots down — appeared like an apparition amid the wooden crosses. Our startled dog went ballistic.

“Sorry to disrupt your brunch,” Dave chimed as he tromped heavily through the lot. Despite having lived here for over two years, he’d never felt inclined to visit the cemetery until hearing that the Dobsons “may or may not” be related to Daniel Boone.

He came. He saw. He seemed utterly unimpressed. We returned to our peaceful graveside picnic.

That our dead neighbors might be kin to an American trailblazer certainly intrigued me, but after a bit of fruitless digging — online, mind you — I gladly surrendered the search. The way I see it, they’ve all crossed the veil into that good night. They’re all pioneers. Besides, it’s often the mystery that keeps life interesting. 

On that note, dear neighbors, I’m really glad you’re here. I hope you won’t mind if I keep saying hi. But it’s really OK if you don’t say it back.   PS

Ashley Walshe is a former editor of O.Henry magazine and a longtime contributor to PineStraw.


Lit Up like NEON

Nashville comes to Aberdeen

By Jenna Biter

“This is a listening room,” Derrick Numbers pleads into the mic, fully aware the roomful of music and alcohol enthusiasts won’t long maintain library etiquette. Weekend after weekend, his plea fails, but he doesn’t really seem to mind. “You guys are in for a special treat: All the way from Cincinnati, Ohio, we have Matt Waters and the Recipe!”

The crowd whoops, claps, and whistles. Inside voices, be gone.

A dark-haired mop in a black leather jacket with 6-inch arm fringe flashes a cool side-smile. “No, y’all, this is a treat for us. Sincerely, to come down to such a beautiful venue,” says Waters, eyeing the room. “Y’all have no idea who we are, but you’re giving us a chance to enhance your Friday night with a little shakin’ music.” He paws his cherry red electric guitar, snarls a groovy tune and pumps his legs like he’s playing charades, and elliptical is the answer.

Waters is onto something. “I wanted to be a music matchmaker,” Numbers says, divulging his motive for opening his Aberdeen music venue, the Neon Rooster, after purchasing what had been The Rooster’s Wife. “I want to introduce people to artists they’ve never heard of . . . ” he pauses and grins “ . . . and sometimes it’s a blind date.”

Waters squiggles across stage the way a 4-year-old scribbles on a white living room wall, with a little mischief. “This next one’s special. It’s about the most inappropriate type of people watching there is: We dedicate this song to hot strangers.” The frontman plucks a ditty that can only be described as the love child of funk and reggae. “Oh, pretty mama, I like the way you’re reading that book . . . ”

In the crowd, a baby boomer in a duckbill hat and the only other fringed jacket in sight taps his foot, and a bleary-eyed blonde dances in her chair with hands above her head. Posters for Nashville’s Bluebird Café decorate the Neon Rooster’s walls and do a little people watching of their own.

“It used to be this secret that people kind of knew about,” Numbers says of the Bluebird. It’s still a hole-in-the-wall, but the hit soap series Nashville “took it to the stratosphere. It may be only slightly bigger than our place, but all the best songwriters have played there.”

Numbers laughs at the lineage. “I don’t think I could ever be the next Bluebird.” His son, Logan, zips by balancing a stack of beer glasses and empty Coke cans. “I want this to be a place where people know they can find good music that also provides a place for new and upcoming bands to play.”

Bearded out and capped in a “Winston Cup Series” trucker hat, Addison Johnson, whose latest album debuted third on the iTunes country charts (behind Morgan Wallen and Willie Nelson), recently played the Neon Rooster. Just a man and his guitar.

People fidgeted in their seats. This guy and his guitar for two hours? But Johnson’s storytelling lived up to his Jim Croce T-shirt. “I looove talking to radio hosts about this one,” he says. “It’s a song about a man who steals a Chevelle to sell fake drugs to the mob down in New Orleans.” He twangs, “Yeah, that pound of white powder was a pound of white flour. Those Italians were looking for me.”

Johnson, a North Carolina native, worked through a Rolodex of old and new songs with lyrics that could outgun punchlines — apparently, he burned his ex’s stuff in a neighborhood bonfire; other songs ended in a cop chase or jail time; and Darth Vader and Neil Armstrong tag-teamed cameos in a psychoactive trip at a Woodstock-lite music festival. 

By the 10 o’clock close, the evening’s skeptics were full-blown believers, buying T-shirts from the merch stand and hooting for an encore. Numbers makes a promise: “Whether you like country music, whether you like rock ’n’ roll, you’ll be able to enjoy any of our artists — we don’t book duds.” PS

Jenna Biter is a writer, entrepreneur and military wife in the Sandhills. She can be reached at


Planet Sandhills

North Carolina’s center of biodiversity

By Bruce A. Sorrie

In simplest terms, biodiversity is the total number of animals and plants that occur in a certain area, say, a country or state. When asked, most North Carolinians would say that here in the Tar Heel State, biodiversity is highest in the mountains, with the extreme range of elevation and rugged topography, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A second area of biodiversity might be the outer Coastal Plain and barrier islands (including the Outer Banks), with its species-rich pine savannas, maritime-influenced plant communities, and huge numbers of nesting birds in summer and birds that winter there in the cold weather. 

Yet, when the numbers are tallied, it is the lesser known and often overlooked Sandhills region that comes out on top. And not just in one category — plants, for example — but in several others as well. This seven-county region (Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Lee, Moore, Richmond and Scotland), while not very large — 3,384 square miles — encompasses a wealth of natural habitat types, which in turn support high overall biodiversity.

The Sandhills region overlaps three of the four major regions of the state, encompassing parts of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain as well as the entirety of the Sandhills. Each of those regions has different geology, soil types and topography, and the natural habitats reflect that.

In the Piedmont we see rocks when we walk through the woods, and rock ledges often front rivers such as the Deep and the Cape Fear. The Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County boasts one of the biggest ledges in the state. The brownwater (nutrient-rich) rivers of the Piedmont support wonderfully tall and shady forests on floodplains.

In the Coastal Plain we have Carolina bays, some forested with pond cypress, some open ponds, which support unique plants and animals that have adapted to fluctuating water levels. We also see xeric “bay rims” (dune-like sand ridges) bordering the bays, and dry-to-xeric flatwoods elsewhere.

In the Sandhills, we encounter myriad streamheads where rainwater collects to form acidic and nutrient-poor blackwater creeks and swamps. The margins of these streamheads provide habitat for many species typical of outer Coastal Plain savannas plus endemics found nowhere else. These streamheads are embedded within some of the highest quality longleaf pine communities in the entire Southeast: Fort Bragg, Camp Mackall, Sandhills Game Land, Weymouth Woods – Sandhills Nature Preserve, Carvers Creek State Park, Walthour-Moss Foundation, Calloway Forest Preserve, Eastwood Preserve and others.

Each section of the Sandhills has its own long and complex history, and each brings many products to the biodiversity table.

Now, for the numbers. These have been generated by the ongoing North Carolina Biodiversity Project (, an online resource where anyone can read species accounts, see images, and view maps of the flora and fauna of North Carolina.

Vascular plants (mosses, liverworts, lichens not included): Moore County is No. 1 in N.C. with 1625 species (including non-natives that have become established); Wake is a close second with 1622; and Orange a distant third with 1548. Notably, Richmond (1475), Harnett (1450), and Cumberland (1436) counties all rank in the top 10 for plant diversity.

Butterflies: Moore tops the list with 120 documented species; Richmond (115) and Cumberland (114) are in the top five.

Dragonflies and damselflies: Richmond is king of N.C. with 119; Moore is a close second with 117; Cumberland (115) is tied for third; and Harnett (110) is seventh.

Grasshoppers and crickets: Wake is far ahead with 110 species; Moore (84) is second; and Scotland (70) is fifth. 

Freshwater fishes: Richmond and Brunswick counties are tied with 91; Moore (81), Harnett (76), and Cumberland (68) make the top 10.

Moths: Madison County in the mountains is No. 1 with a whopping 1352; Moore is 12th with 860. 

Birds: Inland counties cannot hold a candle to coastal ones when it comes to numbers of species of breeding and migrant birds. Dare County boasts 434 species; Wake a very impressive 343 is fifth; but, at 253, Moore is only 23. 

Mammals: The Sandhills region’s best is 38 species in Moore, far down the list, which is topped by Buncombe County with 66.

Of course, these lists are not static and will change over time as biologists and naturalists document new additions. However, the fact that several Sandhills counties rank in the top 10 statewide in multiple species groups will likely not change very much. It is remarkable that the seven-county Sandhills region, which represents only 6.3 percent of the area of North Carolina, supports half of the state’s vascular plants: 2,100 out of 4,200 species.

We who live here are lucky indeed to have such diversity at our doorstep. PS 

Bruce A. Sorrie is a graduate of Cornell University and the author of dozens of scientific papers, including descriptions of 13 new species. He lives in Whispering Pines.


Moonshine Murder

The legacy of the Big Swamp meltdown

By Lisa Weiss

Every family has its secrets. Sometimes they’re taken to the grave or held close to the heart for safekeeping. And sometimes, as was the case for my family, the secret — Granddaddy landing in the gas chamber at Central Prison — made an indelible mark on the soul of a skinny 8-year-old boy who would later become my daddy.

Granddaddy Palmer was a so-called tobacco farmer from North Carolina, although he had never plowed a field that Daddy could remember. Instead, he let his son (my daddy) ride shotgun in the old Ford pickup while he delivered homemade whiskey to the locals. Palmer and his uncle by marriage, George Allen, were two of the biggest bootleggers in the county, and the two of them fought for bragging rights to the Big Swamp distillery business. Uncle George owned the 15-by-15-foot store at the intersection of Seventh Street and Singletary Church Road in Robeson County, so he had a natural distribution point for his product. But Palmer had the most prized asset: a reliable and abundant supply of sugar. In fact, he had 3,300 pounds of it in the backwoods of the Big Swamp, which ensured a constant flow of his moonshine mash.

Sugar during this time was rationed due to the war. Palmer’s secret stash, which in his mind was his patent, always kept him one step ahead of Uncle George. When he refused again and again to reveal his sugar source, Uncle George’s greed got the better of him, and he snitched to the local sheriff, spilling the location of Palmer’s stills. Naturally, festering contempt came stomping out of the backwoods. And with a loaded shotgun.

Walking a mile to Uncle George’s house that morning did not tamp Palmer’s temper, but rather gave rise to it. When he stormed into Uncle George’s house, George leapt from the breakfast table and fled out back, screaming for his wife to get his gun. Not intending to kill anyone — although he surely wanted to make his point — Palmer fired several shots between the siding of the barn where Uncle George went to hide. 

Daddy and his siblings had scattered that morning when they witnessed their own father’s rage and their mother’s pleading. Crouched low and staring bug-eyed at the edge of the cotton field where a split in the path led either to the swamp or Uncle George’s, they waited. It did not take long. The sound of gunshots, paired with the frenzied resolve on Palmer’s face when he returned, kept them as silent as Uncle George’s barn.

Palmer rummaged through the house with a burlap sack as he prepared his getaway into the Big Swamp. He called for Blackeye, the family bulldog, who had a black ring the size of a hickory nut around his left eye, marking his reputation as a fighter. Palmer had paid $5 for him as a pup but when someone later offered $100 for him, he didn’t consider it. He loved that dog.

And so, with his dog, a quilt, a cast-iron skillet and a 5-gallon demijohn of moonshine, Palmer set out into the dark swamp to ride out the manhunt. As the minutes turned to hours, and then days, a sense of self-satisfaction and pride grew. Man and dog survived the elements. But while the moonshine soothed Palmer’s soul, Blackeye grew weary. Over the years, that dog had fought off rowdy strays, snarled at drunkards — would have done anything to protect his master. But Blackeye did not growl, budge or even nudge Palmer as six men in uniform approached them through the dark muck. Like most things in a swamp, the dregs rise up or their stench gives them away. The dog sighed. Granddaddy went to jail.

Uncle George had been carted off to the hospital in the back of a pickup truck. Gunshot wounds to the shoulder, leg and lower abdomen complicated by pneumonia sealed his fate. Following a two-day trial, Grandaddy Palmer was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to the gas chamber. Some folks tasted sweet revenge, while others puckered from the sourness of it all.

When facing certain death, some men become remorseful and discover a sense of purpose. During the eight months it took Palmer to walk the green mile, he learned a little French, sought out the forgiveness of God and his family, and wrote letters . . . lots of letters. His conversion story was covered widely by the local and regional press. His letters were published and used in sermons across North Carolina and Virginia. He was fighting for his soul while his lawyer fought for his life. Despite his remorse, including a petition signed by all but two of the jurors, he was denied an appeal by the State Supreme Court. Daddy used to say, “I don’t think he hated to die as much as he hated to see what he had caused.”

On Feb. 19, 1943, a farmer turned bootlegger walked into the gas chamber at 10:01 a.m. in Raleigh, North Carolina. He smiled and nodded to the sheriff. His arms and legs were strapped to the wooden chair with a high back, a brown leather mask adjusted over his face. Any hopes and dreams were sealed in the airtight chamber.

I can’t say they thrived, but all six of his children survived to tell — or not — their own stories of Palmer. The tragic tale became family lore. Creased, worn letters and press clippings from this born-again inmate passed down from generation to generation. Stories and memories of Palmer fell into the crevices of time, aged and somewhat forgotten; yet, they had the power to expose a gnawing urge to seek out “the unarmed truth and unconditional love”* desperately craved by a family, and particularly, by a fatherless 8-year-old boy, tender and sweet, despite the lack of sugar in his life.  PS

*From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 Nobel Prize acceptance speech

A North Carolina native, Lisa Weiss is an interior designer and artist. She and her husband, Richard, live in the Charlotte area. Charles Meares, her father, served 41 years in the North Carolina Department of Corrections and was superintendent of the Gaston Correctional Center. He was twice the recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, granted by the office of Gov. Jim Hunt and again by the office of Gov. James Holshouser.


Five Easy Pieces

The legacy of a humble man

By Julie O. Petrini

My father was a salesman. Of the sample case, cold-call, hail-thee-fellow sort. He drove around the Midwest in a hulking sedan, peddling disposable restaurant supplies: toilet paper, four-ply napkins, plastic cups and cutlery. Humble as such an occupation might sound, he treated it as a calling. An ordained conversationalist, he could talk to anyone about anything. He made gatherings parties, strangers friends, and every restaurant or bar a potential customer. Of all his skills, his ability to win people over, in an instant or over years, was the one I most admired.

He was a kid from Boston, a mediocre student but a dervish of nervy energy, who headed West with his bride to make their way outside the shadow of their large Irish families. With caterpillar eyebrows that seemed to turn blacker as his wiry hair turned whiter, a linebacker build and Jackie Gleason grace, he wore patterned sports coats in bright colors. His smile was a light switch. He was a good talker, no doubt about it, but an even better listener. He’d find a clue about what a person might care about — a logo on a cap, a crest on a ring, a sticker on a notebook, a twang in a vowel — and even the most reticent would soon be telling him a story they hadn’t known they wanted to tell or laughing at something they hadn’t realized was funny.

On the weekdays, he devoted himself to customers, small and large. He lunched, at least once a week, at a diner in a little Wisconsin town several miles out of the way of anything else. It wasn’t a big account, certainly not lucrative enough to justify that investment of time, but it was always worthwhile, he said, to honor an early customer and learn another thing or two about his business. Once a month, he’d trek to St. Louis to call on Anheuser-Busch, the king of breweries. Forty-one afternoons he waited on a stiff plastic chair outside the purchasing department for a chance to pitch his products, not getting past the outer office. On the forty-second visit, he overheard shouts of panic over a rival supplier’s failure to deliver an order for 2 million beer cups for the upcoming festival season. “I can do it,” he called in through the sliding window over the receptionist’s desk. He did, and never had to wait in reception again.

On the weekends, he served the neighborhood. He’d start a Pied Piper project in the yard, gathering every kid in the neighborhood, to make a game out of mowing or cleaning the garage or shoveling snow. Then he’d lead a bike ride across town for ice cream or a toboggan run down the cliffside trail in the park, harnessing himself to the sled to pull the little kids back up the hill. Or he’d conjure coaching clinics, dumping a wheelbarrow of footballs, baseballs, basketballs and soccer balls to teach throwing, batting, shooting, kicking. Then we’d go on treasure hunts, rooting out Snickers bars and quarters that he’d buried earlier. He was a force.

Forces diminish, of course, and not long ago, I sat vigil with him as he succumbed to Parkinson’s. As happens in those dark hours of reflection, I thought of his gifts to me and my siblings. My brothers shared his extroverted ease; I did not and regretted he hadn’t been able to teach it to me. There were other lessons that did take, lessons guiding me in a life different from his. Lessons worth sharing.

Learn how to learn. I wanted to major in English at college but worried about how that would provide. My dad told me to study what interested me, that what l learned wasn’t what mattered. Things change so fast that most of what’s learned today won’t be relevant in five years anyway. Learn how to learn so you can always keep up. And the English romantic poets have held up pretty well.

You only need one good job offer (or school acceptance, or love interest or . . . ). Racking up choices isn’t the point; embracing the right one is.

Finish the job. I was so nervous that the struggling company I was working for would tank and leave me jobless that I was on the brink of taking another job, even though I loved the one I had. He made me rethink quitting and it turned out to be the best decision of my career. Sticking with the sinking ship helped me develop grit and earn lifelong allegiance from many who have since helped me.

Work your hardest the first six months and the last six months of any job. The first is obvious but the second not so much. People will remember you for leaving things in good shape, earning your keep until the end and respecting their mission even as you move on to a different one.

Have funner. Don’t just have fun, have funner. He had more funner than anyone I’ve ever known and so did most of the people around him. He laughed a lot — with glee at good jokes, with humility at himself, with irony at the craziness, and with joy at the chance to do it all again the next day.

Thanks, Dad.  PS

Julie O. Petrini is a lawyer, writer and avid arts consumer. She splits her time between Southern Pines, North Carolina and Wellesley, Massachusetts. She can be reached at