In 1940 Chapel Hill was filled with love, hope, romance, and innocence. The Great Depression was finally showing signs of ending and the United States had a President who promised to keep us out of the war raging in Europe. The Jitterbug dance craze was engulfing the local high school and UNC student population. Even though some outside of Chapel Hill wanted this new dance banned because they considered it vulgar, there were five or six dances a week in town where everyone was jitterbugging. Most of these dances were sponsored by the University or one of Carolina's fraternities. The overwhelming male-dominated UNC student population usually invited local town girls to these dances. Men wore rented tuxedos while women wore formal dresses that they, or their mother, made. After the dances couples typically went to a local downtown restaurant like Harry's, or a drugstore like Sutton's, for a milkshake or coffee and a piece of pie. Another popular combination was a Coca-Cola and a package of crackers which daters often shared and cost 11 cents. They next would usually attend a movie at one of Chapel Hill's two theaters – the Carolina or the Pickwick. After the movie let out Franklin Street was filled with strolling couples holding hands or sitting on one of many benches along the street.
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During the last five years I have received e-mails, phone calls and comments from readers on the subject of friendship in our town. One of the most surprising things I learned was how transitory most friendships were. The majority of people who had lived in Chapel Hill during at least some portion of their childhood and attended Chapel Hill schools or UNC recall many more friends than people who came to town as adults. During our school years acquaintances were plentiful with hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in the same year of school and college, we spent many years in parallel lives. We also had the wonderful advantage of being immature and not knowing ourselves very well, which allowed us to be open to many more types of people. However almost everyone who had made good friends in their school and college years schools had lost touch or grown farther apart over the years as they became adults, married, had children, and most moved away from Chapel Hill. Recalling those times almost everyone remembered quite a few acquaintances, several girlfriends or boyfriends, and one or two close friends. When I started Chapel Hill Memories I still considered almost everyone I had known in Chapel Hill (from the time I was born until I moved away when I was 40) as my friends, but I now realize many of them may think of me as little more as an ex-friend or former acquaintance.
Charly Mann October 2013
Readers I spoke to who came to Chapel Hill as adults said they made few if any close and long-lasting friendships. A common reason was that they had experienced a series of relationships in which they felt they gave far more than they received. They recounted stories of spending time listening to and helping people who they thought were their friends during challenging times for them, only to be ignored or cast aside when they had similar problems. Many also felt people had misrepresented their true nature to gain benefit from their friendship with no intention of forming an authentic friendship. I heard at least a dozen stories about rejection, betrayal, and selfishness from people who were thought of as friends.
I have written articles in Chapel Hill Memories about more than one hundred current and former Chapel Hill friends and acquaintances I admire and really have no ill will for anyone. Five years ago several people who regularly read Chapel Hill Memories convinced me I should join Facebook to connect with even more former Chapel Hill acquaintances. Within three months I had 437 "friends" with Chapel Hill connections. The only problem was that just a small fraction of those were people I had any close relationship with when I lived in Chapel Hill. Going through hundreds of Facebook posts every week from people I hardly knew quickly became very uninteresting to me. If we had talked on the phone or exchanged letters to share common experiences it would have been different, but I soon simply eliminated about 80% of these people as Facebook friends. Even among most people I kept as friends on Facebook there are no real back and forth friendly conversations. Interestingly, most of my closest friends have never even joined Facebook. With them I continue to regularly exchange letters or long e-mails that are both enjoyable and emotionally fulfilling to write and receive. I believe human interaction should rejuvenate, reaffirm and replenish our souls and social media does not do this for me. Although Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter provide us with hundreds of connections, a recent study by the American Sociological Review found the average American has fewer close friends today than they did twenty five years ago. Few of the people I communicated with for this article who were Facebook users had a single close confidante outside their own family.
The last bit of preparation I did before writing this article was to call six people I had previously talked to over the years about Chapel Hill friendships and collect their most current thoughts on the subject. A female, now in her late thirties and living in New York City, told me she had lost contact with all her old friends because she had to focus on the stresses and time commitments of her marriage, children, and job. A male friend in his early 60s who is recently divorced told me his only friends now are co-workers who he rarely sees outside of work. Even though I remember him as one of the most socially active in Chapel Hill during the 70s and 80s, there is only one Chapel Hill friend he keeps up with, by way of an annual phone conversation that lasts about ten minutes. A current Chapel Hill resident, who has lived in Chapel Hill on and off all of her life, says there are several old friends she grew up with who she gets together with several times a year for a meal, movie, or cultural event but they no longer share anything personal or have deep discussions like they did when they were young. A buddy of mine from elementary school, who now lives in Durham, says he still has a handful of good friends in Chapel Hill, but all they do when they get together is watch sporting events and occasional movies. One of my ex-girlfriends who still lives in town has a couple of girlfriends who she has known for most of her life, but one moved to Florida about a decade ago, the other to Raleigh, and now she hardly sees either. She says it is her relationships at work at UNC Memorial Hospital that sustain her, but none of those people are really friends.
Finally I have a friend who is a psychiatrist who I talked to about this subject. He told me that even close friendships rarely last more than seven years. Most people become our friends not so much because we have a lot in common, but because of their proximity to us at the time we met and because they were fun to hang out with. Through his work with patients over many years, he has found that one of the main reasons we seek friendship is it provides an alternative to loneliness. He says the happiest people he knew were those who married someone with whom they had a lot in common and became their best friend for life.
by Charly Mann
Please send your experiences and stories about Chapel Hill friendships to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Click to Add a Comment
When Kenan Stadium was completed in 1927 it was considered the finest example of gridiron architecture in the world. The stadium was a gift by UNC alumnus William Rand Kenan Jr. in honor of his parents, Mary and William Rand Kenan, and explains why its full name is Kenan Memorial Stadium. Kenan graduated from UNC in 1894, and two years later, when he was 22, co-founded Union Carbide (Now part of Dow Chemical). At the age of 27 he and his brother-in-law, Henry Flagler, who had been a founder of Standard Oil with John D. Rockefeller, became the primary developers of the South Florida by constructing the Florida East Coast Railroad and establishing luxurious resorts in Palm Beach and Miami Beach.
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by Charly Mann
The Chapel Hill I love and remember is not a town or place, but an extraordinary group of people made up of UNC students, administrators, professors and all sorts of townspeople ranging from merchants to janitors. For most of my formative years the population of Chapel Hill was 11,000 from September through May and then dropped to only 5,000 during the summer months when the University was not in regular session. (Today by contrast there are 30,000 students attending UNC plus 3,400 full-time faculty members and an additional 3,200 administrators and supporting staff.) Being a Chapel Hillian then meant being part of a nurturing community that created people with a uniquely Chapel Hill attitude. The primary reason I created Chapel Hill Memories was so that it could be forum for all of us to celebrate the remarkable people of this town.
The man who most personified Chapel Hill during my first decade of life was Skipper Coffin who died in 1956 when I was only six, but was so ingrained in the spirit of the town that his presence was felt well into the early 1960s. I vividly remember hearing soon after he passed away that he would never be forgotten by the town, yet I doubt if any of you reading this have ever heard of him. I will now introduce you to him.
O.J. ("Oscar") Coffin was the most beloved man in Chapel Hill for more than thirty years starting in 1920s. Before that he was editor of The Raleigh Times and wrote hard-hitting editorials that were considered quite progressive in his time, including one that supported the teaching of evolution in North Carolina public schools and universities. In 1926 he became the only teacher of journalism at UNC. He was an inspiring teacher who almost single-handedly created the acclaimed UNC School of Journalism and became its first dean. Many of the leading newspaper and TV journalists around the country were mentored by him including the beloved CBS newsman Charles Kuralt who now rests in Chapel Hill's old cemetery along with Coffin.
Skipper was an incredibly friendly and lighthearted individual who loved talking to everyone he passed as he walked along Franklin Street or through the UNC campus. He was always embarrassed with the title Dean and insisted everyone call him O.J. or Skipper. I remember one or more students at his side whenever I saw him. He especially liked to hang out with students at the depilated bar call The Shack on Rosemary Street (see article: The Shack of Chapel Hill) and drink beer. His wife and many of his friends teasingly referred to The Shack as his "Iron Lung" because they said he couldn't breathe if he stayed away from it for more than a couple of hours. New students were often shocked and saddened when looking for Skipper in his office and then told by his secretary he was in an "iron lung" (which in the 1950's was the name of a piece of hospital equipment that enabled people who were paralyzed from the neck down to breathe).
One time one of Coffin's students walked into class about ten minutes late. Skipper asked him sarcastically if he had anything he would like to say to him. The student just as sarcastically replied, "I think you should dismiss the class now and reconvene it at The Shack for a beer." Coffin smiled and said, "Class is dismissed and will meet at The Shack in ten minutes. Students who do not show up will have their grades lowered for the semester."
A former student of his told me that on the first day of class he would introduce himself by saying: "My name is Oscar Jackson Coffin, and so there will be no trouble about our social standing, my uncle – who I was named after – was hung. A terribly fine fellow, but the jury didn’t see it that way." Another one of his classroom speeches I heard that typifies his personality is the following: "Ladies and Gentlemen I don't mind you smoking in my class, but I would like you to use ashtrays. Don't let me catch you throwing your finished cigarette on the floor and grinding it under with your heel. The people who clean up this classroom are perhaps a lot smarter than you are, but haven't had the chance like you to get a good education."
O.J. Coffin in his classroom
Coffin believed that the most important aspect of being a good journalist was great writing and that was always his emphasis in his classes. He assigned journalism students passages from the Bible that were to be turned it into dramatic newspaper articles. Skipper would read back each student's article to the class with such sarcasm and hilarity that almost everyone thought he would have made a much better living as a comic than a journalism professor. Coffin said he believed sarcasm was the gentlest method of instilling how much improvement a student's writing needed.
One of Coffin's students was Jim Schumaker who would one day become the model for Jeff MacNelly's Shoe comic strip. Schumaker also became long-time editor of the Chapel Hill Weekly (Newspaper) and after that was a UNC journalism professor. When he was in an editorial writing course of Skipper's he failed to turn in any of the ten editorials he had been assigned during the semester. On the last day of class Coffin told him that if he did not have all those editorials handed into his office by 8:00 AM the next morning he would receive an "F" for the course. Schumaker worked through the night to write all the editorials and handed them to Skipper when he was about to walk into the office the next morning. Coffin took the large stack of papers in his hand while puffing on a large cigar said, "Let's make a deal. If I don't have to read these I will give you an "A" in the course." Schumaker accepted and Coffin threw the stack of editorials in the wastebasket.
Jeff MacNelly's Shoe comic strip inspired by Skipper Coffin's student Jim Schumaker
I am not sure if articles like this one have much interest to people who look at Chapel Hill Memories. Since profiling Chapel Hill's memorable characters is what I most enjoy writing about I have decided to try to encourage additional feedback on this piece. There will be a $1,000 prize given after this article receives a total of 1,000 e-mail responses and comments combined. (Currently e-mails outnumber comments on articles about 10 to 1.) When the 1,000 total has been reached all of the e-mail addresses belonging to people who have left a comment or sent an e-mail related to the article the will be entered into a random generation program and the name selected will receive the $1,000. The only rules are: only one e-mail or comment per address will be counted; you cannot enter using multiple e-mail addresses or those of other family members; in order to count the comment or e-mail must directly relate to the subject of this article.
I encourage everyone reading this to submit articles about Chapel Hill people you remember.Click to Add a Comment
In March of 1988 I invited three of my friends to lunch at the Rathskeller in Chapel Hill. They were Bill Ray who I had known since 1964 when he worked at Kemps Record Store; Richard Abbott my best friend during my freshman year at UNC in 1968-69 and probably the most charismatic person I have ever known; and Fred Castrovinci who had been a teaching colleague at Durham Community College in the early 1980s and with whom I was then a partner with in a software company in Chapel Hill.
Since I was 12 I have been making tape recordings of conversations with my friends and family first on reel-to-reel tape, then cassette, and since about 1981 on a microcassette recorder that was about the size of a large candy bar. When we got to the RAT I told everyone I wanted to record our conversation for posterity and possible use in a newspaper column I wrote called CHATS WITH CHARLY.
The purpose of publishing this conversation is simply to give you an idea of how four late-30s to early-40s men carried on a conversation in 1988. I don't think most conversations are like this today. Almost every time I get together now with more than two other people I notice how little eye contact is made between the person talking and the other people I am with. Much of this is caused by almost everyone checking or using their smartphones fr. Not only does this show disrespect for the person talking, but it distracts everyone else. As a result I think conversation is usually far more trivial than it once was.
Finally I do not think true friendships can be made or sustained through the social media we so often use today, but that it requires hours of intimate conversation to develop and maintain. Without face to face focused conversation we will have no true friends, but only acquaintances.
We were seated at the large table at the rear of the Train Room in "The Rat" and our waiter was "Pops" Lyon.
"Pops": Gentlemen have you decided what you want?
Richard: Let me have the Manicotti, your house salad with French dressing, and a Coke Mug.
Bill: A Double Gambler, French fries, and iced tea.
Fred: Your Lasagna, house salad, and coffee.
Charly: A small mushroom pizza with black olives, your salad with blue cheese dressing, and iced tea. Pops how long have you been working here?
"Pops": This is my 25th year.
"Pops": Thanks … I'll bring your drinks and salads right out.
Charly: What do each of you guys think your best character traits are?
Richard: I have very active imagination, and I can entertain myself, even when I have nothing to do.
Fred: I like that I don't get depressed or have self-esteem issues. I'm pretty self-confident most of the time.
Bill: I am open to music. Sure, I have preferences, but I don't dismiss anything until I've heard it, and I'll listen to anything you think I might like. And if I don't like it, I will tell you. What about you Charly?
Charly: I'm exceptionally resilient to anything in life that tries to derail me from getting what I want. Anything else you guys like about yourselves?
Fred: I'm nice to practically everyone I meet.
Richard: I'm not afraid of getting out of my "comfort zone". Anything else about you Charly?
Charly: I try to see all sides of an issue and keep an open mind. Okay everyone what about your worst features?
Fred: I take almost everything to the heart, which makes me very sensitive to other people's comments.
Fred: And Charly what's your biggest fault.
Charly: Well there are a lot. One that it bothers me is that I often over or underestimate a person's ability or nature. My worst fault though I think is my materialism. It seems like I am spending my entire life accumulating things.
Richard: Welcome to the 20th century Charly – everyone is doing this.
Charly: Yeah… but it bothers me that I have vast collections of so many things – I want to stop it, and just enjoy what I have.
Bill: So why don't you stop?
Charly: I guess because there always seems like there is another movie, book, or CD I need to add to my library.
Fred: I am sure a lot of authors, film makers, and musicians are happy you haven't quit buying these things.
Charly: I know, but you know I really do not think I derive the same satisfaction from my things as I do from my friends like you guys, my family, playing tennis, my morning walks in the woods, or even my cat.
Fred: Taking some time to enjoy nature brings me peace and fulfillment as well.
"Pops": Okay men I think I've got everything you ordered here.
Charly: Thanks Pops.
Bill: I think our culture places a lot of status and esteem on people who own a lot of things, live in a big house, and make a lot of money.
Fred: Yeah, and Charly you have all that, and for some reason you still have some friends too.
Charly: Well – yes I guess I'm fortunate, but I truly care more about my moral integrity and character than my enormous music collection for example.
Richard: Wait a second Charly … Do you enjoy listening to your albums or do you just collect them?
Charly: No I usually listen to them for several hours almost every day …
Bill: ... Then Charly you are getting real pleasure from your music.
Charly: I guess so – sometimes music seems almost spiritual to me. Are you at all spiritual Bill?
Bill: I think life is completely meaningless. What's important to me are the things that make me happy.
Fred: My kids are really important to me, nothing else really matters. I really want to pass things on to them that will make their lives better after I'm gone.
Charly: I think raising child well would be both the hardest and most fulfilling thing to do in life. And to me that means making sure she would be happy, curious, confident, and well intentioned from adolescence through adulthood.
Richard: I think everyone lives their lives like they are going to live forever. Obviously we don't know when we are going to die unless we commit suicide, but I think I'm guilty of acting like life is an inexhaustible well. I really need to keep reminding myself how short it is. Lately I have been wondering just how many truly great days I am going to experience. I'm 38 now and think I've had about 30 really incredible days thus far.
Train Room table where this conversation was held
Charly: All right Richard you have had more incredibly beautiful and intelligent women lovers than anyone I think who has ever lived. So in the end did you really love any of them?
Richard: I was certainly physically attracted to all of them.
Fred: You mean they all infatuated you.
Richard: Well yes ... but love ... well what is real love?
Bill: I think love is more like a long-lasting infatuation.
Charly: Now come on – I think real love should be permanent – like the way a parent always loves a child and vice-versa.
Bill: I'm not sure that kind of love really exists in a romantic sense.
Fred: I think it does, but it takes two people who really make a serious commitment to each other.
Charly: I think it probably also means connecting with someone who is not just physically attractive to you, but is also nice and shares most of your interests. I think true love can only happen with someone who is a soul mate – and while I believe some people have them, I have not met mine yet as far as I know.
Fred: I think it is easier than that. You find someone you are attracted to and share some interests with, and then work really hard to get to know them better so you can create a deep friendship.
Cave Room at the Rathskeller (Note the German Shephard sitting in the chair at the table. My German Shephard "Lucky" often came with me to the Rathskeller between 1961 and 1964.)
Richard: Are any of you guys still doing drugs? I just recently quit doing cocaine.
Charly: I did LSD quite a lot in the early 70s, but nothing much else since except a snort of cocaine a few times in the late seventies. I still have honestly never inhaled marijuana nor had more than a couple of sips of beer.
Bill: Cocaine gives me a wonderful feeling of euphoria and energy. It also really enhances listening to music and is incredible for sexual pleasure. You guys should try giving it to a girl you want to sleep with. It will really make her horny and her orgasm will be incredibly intense.
Richard: I agree it is somewhat of an aphrodisiac, and confess to giving it to several women I wanted to have sex with, but I also began having my only experiences of not being able to get it up after using it regularly for about six months. I also had one girl who was incredibly sexually aroused after giving her cocaine yet after more than an hour of trying she was totally frustrated out of mind because she could not have an orgasm.
Charly: These days I often wonder why people drink or do drugs.
Fred: I think it is because most people are really shy and need something artificial to loosen their inhibitions.
Richard: I see alcohol used a lot more to overcome the intimidations of life. I call it liquid courage. That's why it is especially useful on a date or in a bar or club situation when you find yourself attracted to a girl and want to put the move on her. I never needed it for this, but it is obvious people are imbibing to feel comfortable.
Charly: I think that's probably true but really sad.
Fred: Face it Charly most people are just uncomfortable in their own skin and alcohol is their social lubricant.
Charly: My experience with people who are drinking is that more often than not it makes them too uninhibited, and it is not uncommon for them to behave in a highly inappropriate or obnoxious manner.
Bill: I have been guilty of drinking too much on a few occasions, but I did it as a stress release. It helped to temporarily put some of my problems on hold.
Richard: I don't know. I sometimes drink too much for the same reason. I have had a lot of stress in my job, but my drinking wound up worsening my stress which actually made me drink more.
Fred: Why don't we give up on drugs and alcohol for a while and ………………..
Charly: … talk about why people hate and fear.
Richard: Like why so many of us were born with negative thoughts about blacks.
Fred: I think we may be biologically programmed as a defense mechanism to distrust and fear people who do not look like us. It's probably a tribal thing and would be the same in most other species too.
Bill: Yeah I agree. I bet Asian and African kids are born being as mistrustful and uncomfortable with a white face as we are with a yellow or brown one.
Charly: I'm not sure I agree. I think there are some races and cultures that are just more innately trusting of other races than we are.
Richard: I think most people see the world both close up and far away as us and them.
Charly: Yeah people just simplify things so much. Everything is black and white. To most people I know being a Republican is almost equivalent to being evil.
Bill: Well I bet there are a lot of Republicans who think the same things about Democrats.
Fred: Yeah – people really do seem to simplify things. I doubt if most people even have the depth of knowledge to look at the complexity of most issues.
Richard: And of course among most Christians I know you're either saved or damned.
Charly: I do wish that peer pressure could be more a positive than negative for adolescents.
Bill: You mean like studying and reading more?
Fred: I think peer pressure can be good if it induces us to be more outgoing and creative.
Richard: I am pretty much a non-conformist and rarely bow to peer pressure.
Rathskeller rear entrance from Amber Alley
Charly: Actually the main reason I invited you guys together for lunch is you are the three most independent minded people I know.
Bill: To me peer pressure seems to be more based on one's emotion than one's intelligence. It's all about trying to achieve a superficial level of acceptance and popularity.
Charly: Yeah, I still see people our age embracing the political beliefs and choices of their popular or powerful peers. I think Madison Avenue understands this and that is why most ads imply their products will make you more popular.
Fred. Advertising is the ultimate peer pressure.
Charly: Yep and I think all of us are susceptible. Okay then what makes us such individualists.
Bill: With me I think it was that I always knew I was smarter than most people around me which made me less susceptible to peer pressure.
Richard: I just always wanted to be unique. I can't imagine why anyone would not have this desire.
Charly: What always makes me smile are people who say they are different, yet they are part of groups that wear the same kinds of clothes, have the same political beliefs, and listen to the same music. To me they are the ultimate conformists.
Bill: I see them all over Chapel Hill – elementary school students, high school students, and college students especially - people form cliques and they think and act like each other. They are totally predictable …
Richard: … and so boring.
Fred: I just don't see as much self-confidence among people as I used to. Now if someone tries to be an individualist he is no longer respected.
Richard: Exactly – people say "he just doesn't fit in".
Wisdom from a Rathskeller booth
Charly: Do you think people are happier today than they were in the 1950s and 60s?
Richard: No – and I think they are far more ignorant. I mean in my grandfather's generation the average life expectancy was something like 35 and now it's over 70, yet they think the world is worse off now than it was then.
Bill: Wow – I guess most of us here would have all been long dead then a hundred years ago.
Richard: Yeah and economically we are so much better off. Look at the size of houses today and the number of TVs. ……
Charly: … and every house and building is air conditioned. That sure has made a big difference from when we were growing up.
Richard: Yep … but so many people I run into are so whiny and critical of our economic system and government.
Charly: And from what I hear people usually vent their criticisms with insults rather than substantive complaints.
Bill: I just think that's the way people are today.
Richard: Look guys it's been great having lunch with you but I need to head on back to Asheville.
Fred: It's been great meeting you. Charly has told me a lot of stories about you.
Charly: … and most of them are true.
Bill: Hope we can all do this again soon.Click to Add a Comment
Since I was a young boy growing up in Chapel Hill I found writing and receiving personal letters the most engaging and irresistible form of communication. Over more than five decades I have written and received more than 4000 letters from Chapel Hill friends and relations. I have kept every letter and card I have ever received, and have recently scanned copies of all of them which I now enjoy reading on my iPad. They provide a fascinating historical record about Chapel Hill's past which I will give an overview of in this article.
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What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.