The 1940 color film opens with organ music and a scene on a sandy beach. A group of men in elaborate 16th-century English garb greets a group of American Indians
The 1940 color film opens with organ music and a scene on a sandy beach. A group of men in elaborate 16th-century English garb greets a group of American Indians as a narrator with a silky voice explains that the outdoor drama The Lost Colony illustrates how Roanoke Island became the birthplace of English America.
The film, which goes on to show scenes across the state, was part of an advertising campaign to boost tourism in North Carolina. Under the slogan “Variety Vacationland,” the campaign ran from the 1930s through the 1970s and marketed the state as a diverse tourist destination with white-sand beaches, expansive mountain vistas, history, culture, recreation — everything you could imagine.
The campaign — the first statewide effort to promote tourism — was initiated by Gov. O. Max Gardner and a group of business leaders who wanted to bring more money into the state during the Great Depression. It kicked off with a 1937 full-color guidebook, and was later followed by billboards, national ads, films, a WUNC-TV program, and even a catchy 1960s jingle.
Simultaneously, new attractions were being built and old ones preserved. The Good Roads campaign of the early 20th century had resulted in the construction and improvement of roads and highways across the state, facilitating travel via the newly popular automobile. The 1930s saw the beginning of construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the chartering of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the congressional authorization of Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
The concerted efforts were successful: Early in the campaign, tourism contributed about $50 million a year to the state’s economy, and the legacy continues. Although Variety Vacationland promotions are a thing of the past, tourism remains an important industry in the state.
“Yes, this is North Carolina, the Old North State. Yours and ours,” the film’s narrator coos as a montage of video clips flashes across the screen: a waterfall, a golf course, a beach. “From its mountains to the ocean, and with simple hospitality, its home folk bid you welcome.”
Promotional materials highlighted the state’s varied views, such as the one from atop the 480-foot Fontana Dam — the tallest in the Eastern United States — in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The campaign declared North Carolina the “Land of the Lakes,” advertising water-based recreational activities across the state. Lake Junaluska was featured as the site of a summer religious assembly.
The North Carolina Azalea Festival, held annually in Wilmington since 1948, featured prominently in Variety Vacationland booklets and videos. The festival was emceed by Andy Griffith in 1958, two years before the first episode of his namesake TV series aired.
History on display
Campaign booklets promoted the state as “Historyland,” highlighting attractions like the USS North Carolina, which was preserved as a World War II memorial in 1962.