Friday, June 6, 2008

Then and Now: Glimpses in the News

Gathered by Joan and Glen Inabinet
in the writing of the History of Kershaw County

Interest in the 2008 Pegasus Ball at historic Holly Hedge before the Carolina Cup in Camden suggests that readers will be intrigued by a sensational event that occurred at that same residence during the March 28, 1936, running of the popular steeplechase event.

May 1, 1936, The Camden Chronicle claimed an exclusive scoop on the following story, asserting the newspaper had been cooperating to keep the event quiet during police investigation:

“The largest jewelry theft ever to occur in North or South Carolina was perpetuated at Camden March 28 during steeplechase races, when clever crooks invaded Holly Hedge, the spacious winter estate of Mrs. Ernest L. Woodward, socialite and sportswoman, and escaped with valuables worth approximately a quarter of a million dollars…

“Working in absolute secrecy, crack detectives from New York, Miami, and elsewhere were enlisted…

“The burglary…occurred during the Carolina Cup races while Mr. and Mrs. Woodward were absent from their home. The crooks, believed to be nationally known jewel thieves, entered…while only one caretaker was on the premises, and removed the jewelry box from the dresser drawer in a room on the second floor…

“Residents at Camden… positively identified the pictures of several nationally known jewelry thieves…seen there March 28.”

Small references to the incident in later years indicate the theft went unsolved. The city, with press generally cooperating, tried to avoid negative publicity that would reflect unfavorably on the community and possibly turn away wealthy tourists.

The widely attended 2008 charrette to find a vision for the future of Camden suggests a look at efforts in other changing times. The interval between the end of World War II and the mid-century development of industrialization lasted several challenging years. Some of the ways the business district prepared for growth proved counter-productive; others, helpful.

Camden businesses at the time closed by custom each Wednesday afternoon, and by law all day on Sunday. In 1947 the Camden Merchants Association voted to observe Labor Day for the first time, and to do so by closing their businesses for the day. (Some citizens believed it “public spirited” for businesses to close when the town was involved in a community activity, and “money grubbing” to stay open at such times.)

Expecting a growing number of downtown customers, Camden City Council in 1946 tried to plan for parking needs by ordering 400 meters to be installed on Broad Street from Walnut south to York, on DeKalb Street from Lyttleton to Church, and on Rutledge Street from Lyttleton to Church. Enforcement began during the Christmas shopping season, and in the first few days over 50 vehicles were tagged and fined for overtime parking. The public was less than enthusiastic.

Before long Camden had to consider new meters because the current ones often malfunctioned and required “frequent servicing and replacements.” Police Chief Alva Rush sternly warned against stuffing meters with bubble gum or paper wads, but vandalism remained a problem. Within two years, more than 50 percent of the meters were defective. Their condition antagonized the public and made enforcement difficult.

In mid-1948 the city had to crack down on double-parking and parking in the center of the streets. Even delivery trucks were told to “angle park,” like it or not.

By fall citizens who owned vacant lots and space at the rear of buildings had been persuaded to come to the rescue of downtown frustration. In September city workmen prepared parking lots in Camden’s business section for owners who allowed their free use for off-street parking.

Weather extremes in 2008 recall several extremes six decades ago in 1948. In February downtown Camden was blanketed with two inches of snow. Rain, snow, sleet, and ice forced schools throughout the county to close early on a Monday and remain closed through Thursday.
Hailstorms ripped through several sections of the county in June. In Boykin, damages on the State Farm totaled $100,000, with 120 acres of cotton being stripped clean. In the Cassatt area, one farmer lost 100 acres of watermelons, while several suffered serious damage to cotton and tobacco. In Liberty Hill major damage was to cotton.

During summer, county residents suffered from “awful heat,” rising over 100 degrees in late August. Higher-than-normal temperatures continued through the winter. That season proved the warmest one since winter 1906, according to the local weather bureau.

Nearly 10 inches of rain fell during the month of November. One deluge that brought the Wateree River out of its banks caused the Seaboard to detour trains for two days when the steel trestle “was moved six and a half inches out of line downstream by raging flood waters.”

Reported sightings of a Lizard Man in 2008 bring to mind other bizarre claims. January 1948 a local man reported he saw a flaming plane go down but no evidence was discovered. The absence of physical evidence led to speculation that the man saw a “flying saucer” since reports of such unidentified objects had been made in many areas of the country, including one in Charlotte. Citizens here saw another strange object in the sky in July. The object, also seen in a number of other places, “might have been a meteor.”

Elections always evoke political interests. In the post-World War II era, most of the sentiment found in the local press was supportive of states’ rights and segregation. Occasionally, a divergent opinion was voiced as evidenced by the following April 17, 1948, letter to the Camden Chronicle signed John Knox Tibbits:

“Your editorial of March 5, advocating a new political party ‘Dedicated to state’s rights, segregation of races, and the preservation of principles which have made this great country what it is today’ calls for comment both by Christians and by true Americans.

“The great story of America is that any man, of whatever race or color, has an opportunity here to make good and to enjoy the full rights of citizenship.

“The basic principles for community living are the Golden Rule and justice, or, in common parlance, kindliness and fair-play.

“We all believe in state’s rights, but we deny the right of any man, or community, to do wrong by interfering with the rights of others.

“It is plain to most of us that to condemn a race as a race to an inferior position involves great wrong to many individuals , and is as un-American as it is un-Christian.”

The writer was a retired Episcopal minister living in Camden.

February celebrations of African American history have a long tradition.

Browning Home/Mather Academy celebrated its 60th anniversary Feb. 16-23, 1947. Amelia Boykin, the first graduate of “the Model Home,” as it was then called, gave the main address to begin the week-long celebration. The festivities gave special honors to parents of the school’s early pupils and displayed memorabilia of its past.

That spring an Allen University choral group sang at a Mather fundraiser for Negro Boy Scouts in Camden and Kershaw County. They hoped to establish a camp in the Central South Carolina Council.

In February 1948, as a climax to their observance of National Negro History Week, Columbia attorney Harold R. Boulware spoke to Mather’s faculty and student body on the topic of civil rights. (Boulware and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall were among the plaintiff’s attorneys in the Briggs v. Elliott case that was part of the landmark Brown case decided in the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954.)

Mather’s commemoration of Negro History Week in February 1949 consisted of student participation in various contests and several programs at chapel hour. Johnson C. Smith University president H. Liston spoke on race relations.

That spring Mather student Roosevelt Jackson won first place in the Palmetto Scholastic Press Association for his article, “Larry Doby was a Matherite.”