I know I'm not the first urban explorer whose job is to comb the city for its soul/pulse/substance. Still, the idea of it struck me as a relatively new concept. Something that an alt. weekly without the rigid constraints of a daily paper may have started, probably in the wake of the gonzo journalism era. I was wrong. In 1918, a nameless "Junior Observer" was doing my job at the Charlotte Observer when I was just a wee lad of negative 64.
As we take another baby step out of the shadow of the 20th century, let's take a look back at the soul of our city nearly a century ago. What did those folks find funny? Socially unjust? How did they view themselves? Were they covering up their past, trying to be new and shiny back then?
Here's what was going down, in Junior's own words.
Got on by Myself:
A little girl was overheard by her mother vigorously petitioning the Almighty for assistance mounting her big rocking-horse. After a period of this, followed by scrambling noise, the mother heard her say brightly, "Never mind, Lord, I got on by myself."
Many of us grown folks are like that girl. We pray for this and we pray for that. Then after we get what we want, we are tremendously proud of ourselves, and our conceit leads us to withhold credit from every other source.
To the outsider, the man who does not know the Charlotte people, their temperament and their traditions, the absence of demonstrations Saturday when thousands of the armed hosts of the nation marched over our streets, could have easily come to the conclusion that we are not interested in the conflict and in the presence of the troops in the city.
Recently Rev. A.A. McGeachy speaking along the line declared that not since May 20, 1775, have the people of Charlotte lost control of themselves. He hoped to see the time when they forget their traditions and lost control of themselves once more.
I never expect to see that time. When Cornwallis came to Charlotte, our people took it as a matter of course, until they could quietly and without ado make it so terribly hot for him that he had to vacate.
Later in the early [1860s], when the call came for troops to do battle for the principles the South believed were right, the troops were raised. But there was no hullabaloo about it. They just went, that's all.
"Is it proper that a Red Cross button be given to a Negro who has subscribed to the war work fund of the Red Cross?" is a question received yesterday by mail. I have not looked up the regulation of the Red Cross on this matter and I do not intend to. But I am going to say any Negro who is sufficiently patriotic to subscribe to the war work fund of the American Red Cross is entitled to consideration, and if the Negro who was refused a button by the representative of the organization in a county some 50 miles away from Charlotte will let me know his name and address, I shall take my Red Cross button from my lapel and send it to him.
The New Time:
The new time that went into effect Sunday morning at 1 o'clock seems to have created no trouble in Charlotte, except that everyone wants to know whether the time shown is new or old.
Many complaints have been heard regarding the new system. The average man does not understand why it is necessary and what will be accomplished by the change. But Mrs. Junior Observer raises the most unique objection I've ever heard.
"It would be a fine thing to turn clocks up an hour if some people would live by it. Under the new plan, as I understand it, 6 o'clock by the clock is 5 o'clock according to the old time. Now if the men who work in offices would go home when they have a chance, and dig in the garden and cut the lawn and do a whole lot of things about the house that needs to be done, I think the daylight savings plan would be worthwhile.
"I think the law should have been amended to make it unlawful for a man whose office closes at 6 o'clock to stay uptown later than that hour. I think it should have required him to go home as soon as his day's business is over and do a whole lot of things about the house that go undone because he has been 'busy' at the office."
Don't think much of Mrs. Junior Observer's ideas along this particular line.
Know what a "tickler" is?
No, I don't mean the little flask that once was so popular in nearly every section of the country, and that was supposed to contain, and did contain, that which stole away the minds of those who consumed its contents.
It's not that sort of tickler that I'm talking about. Mr. J.W. Holt, the new manager of the Ford Auto Company factory in Charlotte, the other night told me of the sort of "tickler" that should be procured immediately and put into active service.
Mr. Holt suggested that every one who wanted to help make Charlotte a bigger and better city put into his assignment or engagement list of cards one that would come up each month asking "what have I done for Charlotte?"
Now that is a tickler of the right sort. One that touches us up every so often and reminds us of the necessity of doing something for the city in which we live. A tickler that will spur us into activity along a line we have not been accustomed to and one that will return us great dividends on the time spent.