UNC Greensboro Miles Davis’s Trumpet The trumpet in a glass case in Tew Recital Hall started out as a loan. In the late ’90s, Arthur “Buddy” Gist, a businessman and
The trumpet in a glass case in Tew Recital Hall started out as a loan. In the late ’90s, Arthur “Buddy” Gist, a businessman and entrepreneur, would let students play it as he told stories about his friends, jazz legends Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, and John Coltrane. When Gist formally donated the trumpet — given to him by Davis — to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on September 27, 2001, it seemed “almost too unbelievable to be true,” says Steve Haines, interim director of the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program. After undergoing a thorough vetting process, the trumpet was confirmed to be the same one that Davis played while recording Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time. “I’m really glad that [Gist] had the wisdom to put the trumpet in a place where everyone can go and see and enjoy it,” Haines says.
Most of the materials in the Dean Smith Collection — about 12,000 items — are from the legendary basketball coach’s early life: a school report (below) on his hometown, Emporia, Kansas (he got an A, of course); books that showed his interest in coaching; and even scrapbooks that his parents put together of his wins and successes, which they continued to do well into Smith’s adult years. Smith’s estate donated the items in 2017.
Elisha Mitchell was a determined man. In 1857, the UNC professor of geology, mineralogy, and chemistry made a fourth attempt to confirm the elevation of a peak in the Black Mountains. Mitchell believed that this peak was the highest point east of the Mississippi River. While hiking alone, he fell from a cliff above a 40-foot waterfall and drowned. On that fatal journey, Mitchell carried a silver-plated pocket watch that stopped at 8:19 on June 27, 1857 — presumably the exact moment he died. The mountain was eventually confirmed to be the tallest peak in the eastern United States and named Mount Mitchell
About 15 years ago, on a trip to UNC, Andy Griffith spontaneously broke into song: “You get a line, and I’ll get a pole, honey.”
Griffith serenaded UNC staff with “The Crawdad Song,” a tune he often sang on The Andy Griffith Show, before donating his signature Martin & Co. guitar and a collection of his film and television work to his alma mater.
The fiery recliner that graced the cover of Southern Culture on the Skids’ second studio album was donated to UNC in 2014 by Rick Miller, the band’s front man, for an exhibit. Steven Weiss, curator of the Southern Folklife Collection, says that it’s “very comfortable.”
William Sidney Wilson, an electrical engineering student, won first place at NC State’s 1940 engineering fair for designing what may be the world’s first modern electric guitar with a pickup for each string. The pickups meant that Wilson could amplify sound without the hollow-body structure of an acoustic guitar.
Architect Phil Freelon may be best known for his contributions to the design of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. But his work stands throughout the Triangle, too. The 1975 NC State graduate designed the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the Lake Johnson Boat House in Raleigh (below), among many other facilities. In 2015, four years before Freelon died from ALS, he donated drawings, project files, and five architectural models to NC State Libraries Special Collections. Gwynn Thayer, interim department head of the Special Collections Research Center, says that Freelon used his diagnosis to help others. “He tried to think about access for people with physical differences,” Thayer says. “That’s the kind of person he was.”
William Edward Shinn, a professor of textiles at NC State, developed the first knitted artery for use in the human body in 1955. The artificial aorta — the primary artery in the heart — was made out of polyester fabric using a machine that typically knitted men’s ties. Years later, in the ’70s, the dean of the College of Textiles had his aorta replaced using Shinn’s technology. The knitted aorta is an early example of NC State’s “Think and Do” model, Thayer says. “What is exciting about that is it’s STEM in action.”
Tanya Zanish-Belcher, senior librarian and director of Special Collections and Archives, was fairly new to Wake Forest University’s Z. Smith Reynolds Library in 2014, when she found a tattered bundle of painted silk wrapped in butcher paper, deteriorating on a shelf. A year later, with the help of some fund-raising, the library hired textile conservator Claudia Walpole, who deduced that the banner was painted in 1857 by David Bustill Bowser — a prominent Black artist who painted portraits of President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist John Brown. Wake Forest’s Philomathesian Literary Society would display the banner to distinguish themselves as they debated historical, political, and philosophical issues of the day, like slavery. Zanish-Belcher says that Wake Forest is lucky to have a piece by such an interesting and talented artist: “I think it’s my favorite artifact that we have.”
Zanish-Belcher often allows freshmen to touch the pages of the college’s Nuremberg Chronicle. “There’s no point in having it if our students can’t use it,” she says. Printed in 1493 — one of about 700 copies in existence — its handmade paper and wood-cut illustrations are a demonstration of early printing history.
Prolific author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou was named Wake Forest’s first Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of American Studies in 1982, a position she held until her death in 2014. The university has many of her film and theater materials, including the manuscript for her poem “And Still I Rise,” which she was adapting for the stage.
The story goes that President William Howard Taft sat in this plain wooden chair — specially procured for his outsize stature — in 1909 while delivering a speech at Johnson C. Smith University, then known as Biddle University. Except Taft never really sat in this chair at all. Brandon Lunsford, university archivist and digital manager, says that the truth is widely accepted. “It’s a cool little artifact and just a fun story,” he explains. The whereabouts of the actual Taft chair remain a mystery.
The static is thick, but the voice of an 18-year-old Doc Watson comes through clear and strong: “She was called from this earth, a jewel for heaven.” The cover of Roy Acuff’s song “The Precious Jewel,” preserved on a 10-inch Silvertone disc, is the first recording of Watson ever made. W. Amos Abrams, an English professor and folk song scholar at what was then Appalachian State Teachers College, captured the performance at the Boone Fiddler’s Convention on July 4, 1941, as part of a 10-year project to document traditional music in the Appalachian region. Professors and folk music lovers like Abrams were among the first to study local residents as a sophisticated people, says Trevor McKenzie, university library specialist. Their work helped lay the foundation for the university’s master’s program in Appalachian studies. “This record is a window into [Watson’s] mind as a musician,” McKenzie says. “That’s why it’s special, because it shows him at the start.”
Items in Shaw University’s library tell the story of the school’s short yet strong medical history: the Leonard Medical School notebook of Dr. C.W. Furlonge, a 1914 graduate; a 1909 commencement program; and a picture of the 1889 graduating class. Shaw’s medical school became the first in the U.S. to offer a four-year curriculum in 1882. The program lasted only 36 years, but it graduated nearly 400 physicians during that time, helping Raleigh develop a strong Black middle class.
A pendant and other keepsakes preserve the memory of Virginia Glenn, a 1939 Shaw graduate who helped sort mail for millions of service members as part of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion — the only all-Black, all-female unit overseas during World War II.
Once a month, Duke librarians turn the massive, centuries-old pages of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America, showcased in the Mary Duke Biddle Room. The university’s copy of the book is one of about 120 original four-volume sets that exist today. Two volumes are on display, showing off watercolor illustrations of North American birds like ivory-billed woodpeckers and snowy owls. In total, the volumes, printed between 1827 and 1838, contain 435 birds — some of which are now extinct. “For Duke to have a copy of this is to allow us to study things that no longer exist,” says Naomi Nelson, associate university librarian and director of the Rubenstein Library.
The average car gets about 20 to 40 miles per gallon. Maxwell, the sleek, 50-pound car that Duke Electric Vehicles (DEV) students built in 2017, gets a whopping 14,573. On July 21, 2018, Maxwell — named after Scottish physicist James C. Maxwell — broke the Guinness World Record for fuel efficiency, which had stood for 13 years. “When you put 15 kids in a room together, they can do some pretty incredible things,” says Patrick Grady, former DEV president.
When Duke students want to feel inspired, they can make a trip to see Virginia Woolf’s desk, on permanent display in the Rubenstein Library. “I think it’s so evocative to have this item that set the direction for the important writer she would become,” Nelson says.
Frederick Douglass’s handwritten speech, delivered at the second annual NC Negro State Fair in 1880, was gifted to Duke among the papers of Charles N. Hunter in 1941. “It’s evidence of Duke’s desire to document Durham and the South,” Nelson says. In the speech, Douglass encouraged Black North Carolinians to stay in the postbellum South: “This annual exhibition of the fruits of your industry here in Raleigh,” he said, “is a telling contradiction to the story that you cannot live and flourish on the soil of your birth.”
Can’t get enough of our state’s hidden treasures? We talked to four antiques experts across North Carolina to find out their best tips for picking like a pro, how to spot the good stuff, and the most memorable items they’ve ever found.