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Emery Wister Interview

Interviewee: 
Wister, Emery
Interviewer: 
Perzel, Ed
Date of Interview: 
1979-05-23
Identifier: 
OHWI0182
Subjects: 
Early Charlotte; newspapers; Charlotte News; Charlotte Observer; Brooklyn neighborhood; Blue Heaven area; First Ward; Urban renewal; College Place; Southern National Center; Civil War; Depression; Civilian Conservation Corps; World War I; North Carolina National Bank; Trolley system; Streetcars; World War II.
Abstract: 
Emery Wister is a native Charlottean. He attended school in Charlotte and left briefly while working at a mountain-based camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. He served in the Army during World War II at Fort Bragg. A son of an Associated Press employee, Wister followed in his father's footsteps by working in the news industry first selling papers and later proofreading for six years. Following the war, he covered the business and entertainment beats for The Charlotte Observer. While covering business, he broke several important stories including the creation of Lake Norman by the Duke Power Company and the arrival of Eastern Airlines in Charlotte. While covering Hollywood, he became acquainted with actor Ronald Reagan, as well as actors Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney. Wister talks about reporting methods, newspapers' political leanings, and some technical proofreading terms as well as salaries.
Coverage: 
Charlotte, NC
Interview Setting: 
Interview as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
Collection: 
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
Transcript:
EW (Emery Wister): You need any of my background before we start?
EP (Edward Perzel): No, I, I'll introduce this then we just go from there. This is Edward Perzel interviewing Emery Wister on May 23, 1979. Mr. Wister, why don't you, why don't we just talk a little bit about growing up before we get into your professional thing.
EW: All right.
EP: Did you grow up in Charlotte?
EW: Yes, I did. I was born and spent the first eleven years of my life in a, in a house which is now the County Office building. At least the house was on the site where the county office building is.
EP: On Fourth Street?
EW: On Fourth Street.
EP: And that was on the edge of Brooklyn. Is that right?
EW: That's right. We used to look out our back door and see the most god awful ghetto you've ever known back in there, except back in those days we thought ( ) folks lived like that. You didn't think too much about it.
EP: What, where did that start? At, at your back yard? I mean was 4th Street a respectable neighborhood and than had all this behind that?
EW: Yes, yes it was. I, I should say, ( ) explain that the-- . There was sort of a buffer zone in there a big open field. And houses did not come clear up to our back yard. And I can remember very well a great big tenement house, framed tenement house, at the back. And years after I moved away, I went back one day, and I was at least half grown by that time, and I saw that tenement house and it had shrunk to the size of a match box. So it wasn't a big house at all. [laughs]
EP: It was just the perspective of a child. Well, what did you ever go back into that area when you lived there or did you just stay out of it?
EW: Well, yeah, you'd go into it. Back in those days it was very little crime like that between the races you might say. We, there was some, there was a lot of crime, but I mean by that there was no danger to you, to you walking through there or anything like that.
EP: So it, it wasn't a place everybody avoided?
EW: We had good relations with them. I remember one cold night we could hear some of them in there raiding our coal pile you know. And we didn't bother them. Let them have--. As cold as it was, why we figured they had a right to get some coal. We didn't bother them.
EP: How many people lived back in there?
EW: Oh, I don't know. I can't even tell you how many blocks it covered. But you can, if you go drive down now in the old Brooklynarea, you see how it's been built up you can get an idea of how big it was. 'Cause it, it went all the way over to Morehead Street I guess and back in that Blue Heaven area. I wouldn't say how many people lived there just how big it was. It was, it was a considerable size area.
EP: Where, when they tore that down, where did those people move in the First Ward?
EW: Well, they moved all around. That was one of the things I think that hurt them when they tried to re-do some other areas. They had not made sufficient plans to relocate these people. Housing that they had might not have been very good, but at least it was better than what they were going to have. Better than nothing I should say. Well, so later housing developments or urban renewal projects, I should say, ran into trouble for that reason, that they didn't have any plans to relocate these people. And the courts have been insistent on a little bit more of that.
EP: Where did you move from there?
EW: Oh, I moved out on what is now College Place. Was then of course. 1925 it was, then a dead end street. That's a very interesting thing that you should ask that because at the end of the street, there was a cotton plantation there. And now this is 1925, long after the Civil War. And yet, there was just filled with little cabins there, and in October, the Blacks would come out and pick that cotton and sing just like--
EP: Just like the old South.
EW: It was really antebellum. I'll tell you.
EP: That was the Eastover area?
EW: That became Eastover, yes. That was, in fact, that site before it really became Eastover, it became an airport, a little airport there, Eastover Airport. And the man I remember, I just remember one airplane there, and it was owned by a man by the name of Little E. I believe E. Phillips Little. And Mr. Little was a building contractor, the father of Bill Little, who now owns operates the Southern National Center.
EP: Uh-huh. That's fascinating. Did you actually see airplanes?
EW: Oh sure, I went out there one day, I was about twelve or thirteen, and I was just itching to have a ride in an airplane. I just didn't have quite enough nerve to go up and say, " Mr. Phillips how 'bout taking me for a ride?" And Bill Little tells me today says, " He's taking you." [laughter]
EP: That's something I didn't know. That's, that's quite fascinating.
EW: There's a lot of stories about old Charlotte that you can go into, it's. I think it's interesting. Any towns like this of course.
EP: You have lived here your entire life then?
EW: Yes, I have.
EP: You moved around and you went to Charlotte public schools?
EW: Yes. I went to what was then called First Ward or the Ninth Street ( ) School for five years. Then I went to Elizabeth School for one year. Then I went to Alexander Graham High or junior high for three and Central Highfor three. Graduated from Central High in '32.
EP: Alexander Graham wasn't the present one?
EW: No, it is, it the YMCA stands where it was.
EP: The old D. H. Hill?
EW: Well, D. H. Hill was on the corner there and then Alexander Graham. There was two of them. The old D. H Hill High School, of course, was an ancient building, and it actually had been a Confederate Army Prison for, well, Union prisoners. In 19--, in the, in the War between the states, the Civil War.
EP: And they built, they built a junior high school with that-- ?
EW: The junior high school was just east of there, a beautiful building.
EP: And was that torn down to build the Y?
EW: Yes, it was. It was torn down a number of years ago. I always hated to see it tear a building down. Had a nice, nice front on it and everything.
EP: Uh-huh. How did you start to work for the newspaper? Was that ( ) --
EW: Well no, my father was a telegrapher with the Associated Press. And I just naturally he, he, his the office where he worked was in the Charlotte News building on Church Street. Now back in those days the News and Observer were separately owned, of course, and right across the street from each other on Church Street. And this was before radio was doing much with sports and long before television. So every year, when they played the World Series, each newspaper would play that game with a giant board. I would say ten by ten feet that was just the approximate size. They were not quite that big. Pretty good size. And they'd get the wire reports in and somebody would operate that ball, and they'd, they'd have the players. ( ) Signs say Ruth, Babe Ruth. ( ) sign indicated who was at bat. And if he hit a home run, they could take the ball ( ). [laughter] And the people would shout and scream on the streets for blocks. One half of the crowd would be watching the Observer board and the other half the News board. Of course, they was not enough traffic in those days to make a difference. I used to ride uptown in the afternoon from school and watch it. It was fascinating.
EP: Up there on Church Street?
EW: Um-hum.
EP: That's in the first block off of Trade?
EW: Well, yes. I, well off Trade. Of course, neither building stands now. The Observer building was torn down first and then the News building has only been torn down, oh I'd say, about ten years. After we went down the street. The Charlotte News was bought out by the Knight Newspapers in 1959. And we immediately left that sight and the building stayed vacant for several years until First Citizens Bank and Trust bought the building and tore down, torn it down. Used it as a parking lot.
EP: When did you start to work for the News?
EW: Well, I was working there as a child really. As a boy, I used to run football scores up and down the steps. Post them every Saturday afternoon, we'd put the scores on the board on the front of the building so people could see it. I says ( ) not radio then you know wasn't doing that. Oh I think you had radio but radio wasn't carrying much of that, and people didn't listen that much to it for that. So, I'd do that Saturday afternoons, and sometimes I'd work as a copy boy doing ( ) and things. But I really didn't work up there in the news department until 1936. I got caught in the depression and had a hard time getting a job. So I went to work up there as a proofreader in 1936.
EP: What did you do during that depression?
EW: [pause] Loaf mostly.
EP: Did you? You had no job?
EW: I even did a hitch in the--. You probably don't remember now the old CCC camps.
EP: Um-hum.
EW: Civilian conservation camps. I didn't have a job I had to have something to do so I went--
EP: Which one of those camps did you?
EW: Oh, up here in the mountains somewhere.
EP: Up in the North Carolina mountains?
EW: Yeah.
EP: And what did you do for them?
EW: Worked in the kitchen. Cut down trees. Helped them build roads.
EP: Did you send money home that you made from there?
EW: I think so. But I, I sent it home, but they saved it for me. My parents did. Put it, just put it in the bank.
EP: I thought the government required a certain part--.
EW: They do.
EP: of your pay go home?
EW: But oh, yes, as a matter of fact I think I was paid, I believe it was thirty dollars a month. And they let you keep something like five.
EP: Oh, is that right?
EW: I believe that's correct. I, it's been a long time. I only stayed four and a half months.
EP: For how long?
EW: Four and a half months.
EP: Four and a half months.
EW: ( ). Plus, it really gets cold up there in the winter.
EP: What did you live in? ( ) camp type--?
EW: They were sort of combination houses and tents. In other words, they were sort of little huts with sort of beaver board siding and the top of them was canvas. Fact there was a tent built in there. It wasn't bad. I didn't mind it.
EP: It gets cold in the winter, though. [laughter]
EW: Yeah, but it was all right. I didn't mind. I said it was cold in the wintertime. I didn't spend a summer up there. Didn't, I didn't take the warmth too good. Rattlesnakes up there. I could do without that. Pisgah Forest full of them.
EP: Did you wear a uniform for the CCC?
EW: Yeah, they give some uniform. I think in that, as a matter of fact some stuff left over from World War I in a lot of cases.
EP: Is that right? That's what they outfitted those boys in?
EW: It was good healthy service ( ). I don't regret doing it, it ( ) doesn't hurt you.
EP: Then you came back to Charlotte, and you eventually go to work for the News as a proofreader?
EW: Yeah, I, I, I that's right. My father was ( ) left the Associated Press because he was what you call a morse operator. You take down the clickety-clack, you know telegraph, and they were replaced by teletypes. And my father didn't make that change so good. So he became a proofreader.
EP: And you joined him as a proofreader?
EW: I joined him on the staff in 1936.
EP: Who was the editor at that time?
EW: Oh, you have asked a question that I--. Well, J. E. Dowd most of that time, maybe all that time. James Edward Dowd.
EP: They owned the newspaper.
EW: He and his brother W. Cherry Dowd owned the paper, but they sold it in 1936 to Thomas L. Robinson. Mr. Robinson sold it to the Knight Newspapers in 1959.
EP: So you worked for three different owners, basically?
EW: Yes. You can say that. That's correct.
EP: Through that period.
EW: Yeah. Well, we worked for three different owners and worked in four buildings.
EP: Did you see any great change in ownership? Did it effect you in anyway or the paper?
EW: Oh, it sure affected the paper. It didn't affect me that much. I the, the old Charlotte News as we knew it as we always called it was very good stable paper and had a good ( ) the public had a high feeling, good feeling for it. But the problem was it was a very poor newspaper, I mean financially poor. And we really had to struggle so pay raises were not too good. ( ) The pay itself wasn't too good. And but that's the way newspapers were then. I don't think the Observer was that much better.
EP: Do you remember in 1936 how much you made when you started to work?
EW: Yes, I started off work for thirteen dollars a week for a forty-hour week.
EP: Was that considered pretty good wage then?
EW: No. It really wasn't. But actually I didn't, I just needed a job, and I when I went to work there I didn't. For them for a long time I thought I'd probably remain a proofreader rest of my life. I didn't mind the work too much. It tore my eyes up, but outside of that I didn't mind. It was very educational. I learned a tremendous amount from it. Back in those days, newspapers used to fill up the space with they called fillers. You may have seen something about that in the papers the other night. Bob Carver one of the editorial writers wrote about that, and used some of these little, little bits of useless and useful information. Well, I would read a galley and a half of those things. You know what a galley is, is a full column of type. I, I read I would say, I read a galley and a half of those things on average every day for six years. Now let me tell you something you can get an education from that. [laughter] And that was my college education. I considered six years on the proof desk then. You don't have proof desks on newspapers now you know. Everybody is his own proofreader. But back in those days, working on a proof desk was very educational and, and I say, it was a college education.
EP: Were you living at home at that time?
EW: Oh, yes. I was single living with my parents.
EP: So thirteen dollars a week wasn't bad.
EW: Oh, yeah. I saved a lot. I remember when I was making fifteen dollars in one year there. That's, that's seven hundred and fifty dollars a year. I managed to save five hundred of that. And bought my parents a console radio for Christmas. [laughter] Now that means I was pretty chintzy. But there were few little fringe benefits at the newspaper. You got, you got get the paper for nothing and always get my theatre passes, and I paid for regular entertainment. So, it came out all right.
EP: Where did you go from proofreading?
EW: Well, I assisted the movie editor up there who was late Cameron Ship, later went to Hollywood and became a publicist and writer out there. I took, took work with him and put out the Saturday movie page, and that's where I got my love of show business. And always have good memory for movies and pretty good eye for them, and so I started doing that. And in 1939, I made my trip to Hollywood on my own expense and I rode the day coach out there. And I think the whole trip cost me about $115.00. The fare was about sixty-eight dollars. That was coach. Not pullman now, and there wasn't all that expensive to eat on the train. Once I got out there I had very little expenses because the studios wines you and dines you. And I did that every year when I, until I left the Charlotte News this year. I had been sixty-eight times.
EP: Is that right?
EW: I'll be going back to Hollywood again in June because I'm still writing a weekly column for the weekly papers. And the television networks have invited me back out again. So I'll be going out again.
EP: That means you met some real memorable people and some real stars out there.
EW: Oh, sure. I've written about all this stuff. This I still write about it some. It's fun.
EP: Are there any of them that really stick in your mind for one reason or another or?
EW: Oh, yes. You remember lots of them. Sure.
EP: Who do you remember the most? Not just because of their fame, but because of some personal experience?
EW: Well, the fame comes into it because you, you think about it. Like Ronald Reagan. I knew Ronald Reagan back in the days they called him Dutch. I knew Humphrey Bogart because he was sort of an irascible type and you never knew what he was going to say. You remember that. And James Cagney, he was a good tough guy. Not the, not the kind of man that was afraid on the screen, but he was kind of fella you didn't mess with. He, he was a good fella and very upright and honest man. There wasn't too much nonsense about him. And, but I liked him.
EP: What about on the local scene? How did that involvement involve you in any stars or whatever might come to Charlotte?
EW: Well, it didn't too much for a while because when I first started writing the movies, I was still ostensibly a proofreader. And some of them came to town, somebody else did that because I was busy in the shop.
EP: Uh-huh.
EW: And of course, when the war was over, and I came back from the service in 1945, even before the war was over, I went back to work as movie editor and then I was the man. If there was an interview to be done, it was going to be me. I never did go back on the proof desk after the war.
EP: What were some of the big theatres in Charlotte at that time?
EW: Well, of course the Carolina was your main theater right here. And then down the street where the American Building is now was the Broadway. And then there was the State up on Tryon and later on East Trade. There was a theatre where the Radisson Hotel is there on East Trade there. ( ) then became the State. There was Alhambra up here on North Tryon. There was old Autoway which showed westerns. Of course there was ( ) on West Trade. The first neighborhood theatres I remember was the Visualite and then came the Dilworth. And then after that the Plaza and various others. The neighborhood theatres did very well until drive-in theatres came along. And then drive-ins sort of took the play from them, and then of course, then as your people began to desert the down town area, neighborhood theatres came back, as first for newspapers--, as first theatres. Originally, your neighborhood theatres played second run pictures that is pictures that had played before.
EP: What, what was the fanciest theatre downtown?
EW: Well, the Carolina.
EP: The Carolina.
EW: Actually, Charlotte didn't have very too many fancy theatres. Used to be, the theatre man used to say, "Charlotte was a lousy sitcom." I said, "Well, what do you expect?" I says, "You run crummy theatres. You expect people to come to those?" And they said, "Well, hell. We can show, show Gone With the Wind in a tent and do big business." I said, "Yeah, you can but how many Gone With the Wind's have you got?" [laughter] Well, there finally began to see that that was true. So, General Cinema came in here right at the opening of Charlottetown Mall. And they started, and by that time the local theatre people had begin to wake up, wake up a little bit about it and built some nice theatres.
EP: Did you cover anything but theatre?
EW: Oh, Lord, yes. I covered--. When I first started out, it wasn't a big enough beat or we weren't a big enough newspaper, I guess, for one man to just have that and nothing else. So I did federal building and of course, the weather bureau was down. I'd write weather. Then I got into business and dropped the federal. I handled business right on up, until I left. I enjoyed covering business. I enjoyed that as much as I did the theatre business.
EP: So you, you really saw Charlotte from a number of facets?
EW: Oh, yeah.
EP: You saw business growth. You saw--
EW: That's right. I did business and entertainment. I never did any politic, political things like that. I was always an uptown reporter. Covering uptown activities.
EP: Who, who do you think are some of the businessman that really made Charlotte or molded Charlotte to where it is now?
EW: Well, we were just talking about Bill Little. Bill Little has done awful lot up there with his son, and he plans to do some other things. Southern National I mean. And NCNB and Addison Reece, the people who were in on that, meant an awful lot.
EP: Did you cover the mergers that created NCNB?
EW: I sure did. I was up one morning at Wachovia Bank up on West Trade Street. Guy said, "Emery, how come you're not over at the American Commercial." I said, "What's, what's going on over there?" He said, "Well, their, their merging securities back up in Greensboro ( )." Boy, I jumped over about five desks getting to a telephone to tell my boss where I was going. And we cracked that story that afternoon.
EP: Did were you the first to cover it or had the--
EW: Well, we had just the rumor. I hadn't heard anything about it until the guy told me. I didn't know anything about it. It was a very well kept secret.
EP: How did you go about finding out these things?
EW: I had been up in there, and the guy said, "Well, can't tell you a thing, and they're up in their meeting right now." So I, I forget just where we got information. We had enough for a story that afternoon. It shook up a little bit.
EP: Did you have sources that you would go to, to try to keep up on some of these things to be able--?
EW: Oh, sure, you got your tips, people who tip you and call you and tell you things. Mainly you just call on them. For instance, if you heard State Farm was doing a lot of business, you go down see them. About everyday you just drop in there and say, "What you guys got going on there. " Something like that you know. And you get so you know these people, and they know you. And they can trust you. Different today, they don't operate like that anymore.
EP: You can't circulate as easy?
EW: They can. They just don't.
EP: They don't. ( ) are closed on what their dealings are?
EW: Oh, during the 60s, change came over so much and all this protest crap and all this. These people, these boards and newspapers got suspicious of anybody who was in business. Almost treated as though they were criminals. And it was just a different feeling, and that, a lot of them didn't want to go out. They'd stay in the office. I'm talking about reporters that would stay in the office and wouldn't go out. You can't get the news standing around. You got to go out and see people.
EP: What's the hardest story you had to work on?
EW: Well, I don't know. [pause] Sometimes I don't know how to define what's the hardest I've. [pause] The worst stories to work on are ostensibly the best stories because there was are ( ) Maybe you would here a rumor and check it out and find it was true that a man was going to put a thirty story building downtown. Oh, those stories never break just when you hear them. You go and see them and they say, "Well, we might but we got an awful lot to do yet, and if print a story today, it would be untrue and besides you would kill it if you print it." So you just have to go on with these people. So in the meantime, you know the morning paper knows about. You know radio knows about. TV knows about. And ( ) but I never lost a single story waiting on them like that, the whole time I was.
EP: How would you lose a story?
EW: Somebody else getting it. You're going to pick up the morning paper and read it. I've read plenty of stories in other papers that I didn't get. But I've never read a story that a man had promised me a story and I was ( ). I've never been betrayed on it. That's what I was saying.
EP: Um-hum. [pause] What, what do you think were some of the most significant business developments that took place?
EW: Well, one of, one of the biggest stories and the one that probably got the least attention was the story we ran one day that said, "Eastern Airlines to Land - EAL to Land Constellations Here." Or EAL--. I forget exactly how it was, the headline read. That might not sound very much but what it amounted to was that they, at that time the constellations was, this was the late forties, was the largest plane in the air. And the biggest plane Houston had. I don't remember Constellation run propeller driven of course with a three-tier tail on it. Well, that was important because it not only the conste--, it would mean the Constellation coming out of Eastern would put a whole connecting pattern in here. Drastically increased our air, air service and took off some of the pressure off Atlanta. Well, right after that here comes Celanese looking for place for their big southern office. Saw the air service here and said, "We'll put in Charlotte." That's the reason for it. J. P. Stevens followed them and there were several others.
EP: Ben Douglas who was in this morning and--
EW: ( ).
EP: Yes. And he said there were two things he thought was so important to Charlotte's growth that was developing good transportation and water supply. Did you find that to be major factors in business?
EW: Absolutely. Absolutely. You can't, you got to have water. You can't do anything without water. And you've got, certainly got to have transportation. You got to get in and out.
EP: ( ).
EW: Well, they have to coming in. So you'd say your coverage of business growth more or less reflected that people looked at those factors? If a company is considering any kind of a facility in a city at all, whether it be distribution, manufacturing, office or what, you certainly got to worry about whether there's enough water for the people who's going to be here. And number one whether you need to extend the lines to the areas and number two you got to worry about transportation. They have to be able to get in and out. ( ).
EP: What, what year did you start working on business coverage?
EW: Oh I can't give you that figure exactly.
EP: In the 40s, the early 40s?
EW: No, no, no, no. I didn't come out of the service until '44. Started in reporting in December '44. '45 before I really started any of that reporting.
EP: You were a proofreader for six years and then what you went into the army?
EW: army for twenty-eight months and then came out.
EP: Came out and started working again for the News?
EW: Yeah.
EP: Where--?
EW: I never left the News. I was just on leave of absence.
EP: Where were you in the army? What--?
EW: Ft. Bragg. Never left Ft. Bragg.
EP: You spent twenty-eight months at Ft. Bragg.
EW: Except for a period in the hospital. But that's ( )
EP: So you didn't get shipped or--?
EW: No, I, I was in special services and then wound up in ( ) home base, you might say, at Ft. Bragg as a, worked on the Range patrol where these people would go out and practice firing artillery. I was a switchboard operator. Very simple little job.
EP: You were pretty fortunate in that sense.
EW: Well, yes. Sure, you can say that I was.
EP: Looking back on it.
EW: But you were asking about the old newspapers a minute ago. And wanted to know if it was good pay in those days. And I told you no it wasn't very good. And, and I'm reminded of this. I don't think anybody's pay has gone up any better than newspaper people has. They pay them respectable salary today. But even so, back in those days, the conventional price for a haircut in a men's barber shop, in a white barber shop, was forty cents. And that price stayed that way, I bet, twenty years. It didn't change. Now the point is, the going rate reporters, journeyman reporters, in those days was about $40 a week, which is one percent, a haircut was one percent of that price. Well, today, you're going rate for haircuts downtown is four dollars. And I don't think many reporters are making $400 a week. [laughter] It's certainly not the going regular rate.
EP: So, on that scale--
EW: So on that scale, they still are behind. However, what caused the haircuts to go up so badly, I guess, was the unit costs had to go up because so many people came along with long hair and wanted to go into the barber shops you know. You know the barber colleges even went out of business for a while because there wasn't any need or any need for barbers. Nobody was going into that business. No one was getting their haircut. [laughter]
EP: ( ) Did you have a barber shop that was particularly a good place to get some rumors to follow up on?
EW: Not at all. Any better than anything else. I had somebody last night to give me a rumor, which I don't think was true. And I passed it on to the newspaper this morning. But, I never found nothing ( ) as a matter of fact it could be. It could be in their listing, but I never spent that much time in a barbershop. I went in to get my haircut and get out.
EP: That wasn't one of your sources?
EW: Nah.
EP: What, in your schooling in Charlotte did, did you have a 12th grade?
EW: Yes, we did. The 12th grade went on, as a matter of fact I think, my sister who was several years ahead of me was the last year they had eleven years. And they went on so I think about '26 was when they went to twelve grades. And then they, during the depression, they dropped back for a year or two to eleven again. [pause]
EP: Did you remember the trolley system in Charlotte?
EW: Oh, Lord, yes. Good trolley system.
EP: When did that end?
EW: [pauses] Gradually. I'm trying to think a minute. It seems to me that the first buses came into the, in fact I'm sure they did, in the mid, late 1930's. And gradually, they took over the streetcars. I can remember streetcars around for a long time. After the buses first appeared.
EP: Were there any streetcars as late as the 50s?
EW: I don't think so. It could be--, no. No. I think the streetcars were gone by the time World War II got here. The reason I say that, the government wanted the cities to give them the tracks to melt, melt, to melt down. And the cities told the government they could have them. But they said you've got to fix our streets back. And the government says we got no way of doing that. We can't, can't they refused to do it so no deal was ever made. The tracks are still there.
EP: They're under the pavement?
EW: Yeah.
EP: In some areas, ( ).
EW: ( ).
EP: ( ). What about the, they call it the P and N, inter-urban line?
EW: The P and N was a streetcar to Gastonia. They ran about four trains a day over there. That was before heavy automobile traffic because a lot of people worked in Gastonia and lived in Charlotteand vice versa did ride those trains. And somebody used to say that the fastest train in the world because it went an hour, it traveled twenty-two miles an hour and still made twenty-three stops. So, I guess from that point of view it was pretty fast.
EP: Was it, was it actually a trolley type or was it a train?
EW: Well, no, no. Well, it was both. It, it was not a trolley it was a train, a regular train coaches, couple of them together.
EP: But ran on electric?
EW: Ran on electric train and go right out you, you were parallel to the streetcar tracks. There was a line of streetcar line that used to go out to what is known as Hoskins, which is West Charlotte and the P and N went right by there. I'm, I'm not sure about this but it could have been part of the same track. 'Cause you see it was P and N and, and P and N was, had a Duke Power tie in. And Duke Power ran the streetcars.
EP: Had you seen, I guess you're probably too young when Duke Power took over Southern Utilities?
EW: Well, yes. Southern Public Utilities ( ) it gets sort of technical, and I'm unsure about this, but I think what it was Duke Power just sort of a master company and they just. Southern Public Utilities was just sort of a retail arm, I believe. And I believe they just went ahead and call it that.
EP: Well, when, when Duke Power moved, I guess Duke Power moved in here and they in the early 20s?
EW: Well, Southern Public Utilities was an electric company. I don't know when they first went in. And it was, of course, James Duke's idea. He built the dams and everything and created a power, and Southern Public Utilities retailed the power, see. And then they, I guess you might say, they combined the operation. And in the 1920s, they built that Duke Power Building.
EP: Did you, did you cover some of the, the development of like Lake Norman and Lake Wylie?
EW: Um-hum. I broke that story, Lake Norman.
EP: You were working on it? That, was that a major event?
EW: Yeah, Lake Norman was a pretty big story.
EP: They had to buy up an awful lot of land?
EW: Oh, yeah.
EP: Was that did they pull all the land together before they announced what they were doing?
EW: I'm sure they did. You really couldn't do it any other way.
EP: Well, you, how, how soon did you know about that before--?
EW: Well, I wasn't covering Duke Power, and I didn't have too much say about it. I just, I just got a note one day from the city editor said they going to build it. Write the story. I, I wasn't a story that I had gone after as I remember it.
EP: You hadn't uncovered per se? Are there any memories that that we haven't prodded you on that you might?
EW: Well, a lot of nonsense. I remember we had a lot of fun. We used to pull a lot of jokes on each other, and I was always a good practical joker. I remember one day we was out at the airport, and we, photographer and myself, went out to see a an ambassador from Dominica or somewhere down there in Central America. We got out to the airport, and he was already on the airplane, but Eastern Airplanes let us, said, it would be several minutes before we take off, you can go on if you want. We went on, asked him a dozen questions and made his picture. Well, riding back to town I told the photographer, "Let's have some fun." I said now, "I'm, I'm going over to the Federal Building. You drop me off at the Federal Building. I'm going to make a call." I said, "Don't you dare go upstairs. You stay"--. Back in those days photographers has separate little building of their own. This is when we were down on Church Street, you understand. So I got over there, I got a guy in the civil service office, the post office, to call my boss. And he said, "This is the control tower at the airport and two of your men Eastern Airlines took off with them on board." And I could hear him scream over the phone, "Oh, no, no." [laughter] So he called down, called down to the [pause] photography department, and said, "Ms. Franken you don't know this but Don Martin halfway on his way to Knoxville by now." 'Well, Dick, you must be mistaken. He's sitting right here in front of me."
EP: They believed your story.
EW: Oh, she got the biggest kick out of it. [laughter] So when Dick, but when I came in about an hour later, Dick saw me and says, "I see you. You're sunk. I'll get you for this." Next day he'd forgotten all about it. [laughter]
EP: You got, you got to have some of that to keep you sanity around here.
EW: Oh, well, yes. We, we had a lot of fun.
EP: Did you I know the Observer had people like Grover Cash worked for them. Did you--
EW: Cash worked for the News.
EP: Did he work for the News? Did you know him?
EW: When you asked me who was editor and I had to do a little back tracking. I don't believe Cash ever, I'm not sure if he was ever editor of the News or not. But he was in that department. I think he was the associate editor, but I don't believe he was ever editor. I can't remember. He might have been for a time or two, I just can't remember right now. Yeah, I knew him very well.
EP: What kind of a man was he?
EW: Well, he was sort of withdrawn, and very serious and [pause] very, at that time Hitler was chasing across Europe, and he, nobody ever hated Hitler any worse than he did. And he would go on a tirade around the office when Hitler would stage a coup of some kind, you know. He was just running crazy.
EP: Mr. Cash committed suicide didn't he?
EW: Yes, and some of his people think he was murdered.
EP: Is that right? That happened in Charlotte?
EW: Oh, no.
EP: That did not.
EW: It happened in Mexico City.
EP: ( ).
EW: Or somewhere in Mexico. I'm not sure Mexico City. I think it was. He was found hanged on a door in a hotel, as I understand it.
EP: In your knowledge of him, did you think that he was suicidal?
EW: He could be except, it was sort of strange because every time something would happen over there in Europe in the War, Cash would come out with the same editorial. He'd say, " Well, we might have known Russia would not come in on the sides of the allies," you see. And after they did come in, he'd say, he'd be happy about it. And that's when he committed suicide. So I, from that point of view I was a little bit surprised.
EP: Did, you have you read his book?
EW: I never read it, no. But it's a funny thing, we was talking about actors a moment ago, and talking about James Cagney, and Cameron Shipp this man that I succeeded at the News, was talking to Cagney about Cash. And Cagney had some interest in it, I forget what it was. And Cam says, "I'll bring the book." And Cagney says, "Would you? I'd love to read it." So he brought it in. So, Cagney read the book, and he saw Shipp and said "Hey, Shipp." This is what he told him. "I read your book last night." Said, "I liked your book. Something very terrible is going to happen to that man." [pause] So apparently, Cagney read something between the lines there in the book and could size up. That's hard to believe isn't it?
EP: Are there any other personalities that stand out in your mind that have been involved in newspaper?
EW: Yeah, like well, one of course, personality I think about more than anybody else is my old friend Pat Hall, who died here last November. Pat was the most remarkable man I think I ever knew. He could reduce a complicated problem down to simple terms. He was a hard driving intense man, and yet, he, you talk about somebody who would play practical jokes. When Pat wanted to open up, he was as was as loosest most genial, happiest guy you've ever known. Has a wonderful family. He was a great citizen. [pause]
EP: Did you cover the creation of Carowinds?
EW: That's one of my big ones. I broke that. That was, that was an awful story.
EP: Was it?
EW: Because the Observer knew it was going on, and they had it written once. And then they never could quite put it together. I don't know why they couldn't really. Because, we had to wait until Pat was ready. Pat was a friend of mine, and I couldn't go bugging off on the thing. So I had to wait. And he was a great guy.
EP: Did, when, when the papers were bought by McKnight but was there tremendous rivalry continued between the News and the Observer?
EW: It did for a time. I found that we still had plenty of rivalry down there. We, it's pretty well, they still try to do it really. I, I give them credit they try to do it. It's awfully hard to do it. And I don't think we have the rivalry we used to have. I don't think you have the dedication, the people who really care. It used to be when I'd get a story in the morning. By golly, I'm that story was going to have to go out afternoon, and I just wasn't interested in waiting until the next day. And I couldn't understand it when they tell me they didn't have room in the paper for it. 'Cause I say, when I got the story here you won't run, I want it in there. And I was really disturbed if it got in the other paper. I don't care whether who owns it ( ) owns two papers or not. I don't think you have that sense of urgency on newspapers that you used to. At least you don't, I don't find that you do.
EP: It's, has there been an attempt you think to try to divide let's say the political audience between the News and Observer? Does one try to appeal to one side of the question and one to the other?
EW: Well, I think the Observer-- That's an interesting question because it used to be back in the old days that the Observer was considered the conservative newspaper and the News was the liberal newspaper. And then the liberals got liberal and somebody who used to work on the News got to working on the Observer. Pete McKnight, for instance, used to be editor of the News. He became editor of the Observer. He left Charlotte and then came back, and that's when the Observer really started getting liberal. And they've got tremendously more liberal than we were, and the News went conservative. So today's times you got a fairly liberal News and a much more liberal Observer, I guess you'd say.
EP: But you don't think there's any conscious effort to be different?
EW: You mean on the part of the newspapers themselves?
EP: Yes.
EW: Yes, I think so. That would be rather stupid, wouldn't it, to have two newspapers exactly alike.
EP: Well, when they're owned by the same company it makes a little more--
EW: Well, but the company, the company would be interested in, in you being different. It's one of the hardest things that we have to do on the paper down there was to convince the reading public that there was no difference in the The Charlotte News and the Charlotte Observer. The public just doesn't believe that or didn't believe it. And it, it was just terribly hard to convince them. And it still is. Even though I can tell you that there is a big difference, that they are not the same, they may be owned by the same people, but they are not the same thing. But you just don't get the public to believe that. They will not believe it.
EP: Well, unless you have something you want to leave for posterity.
EW: I can't imagine what that would be.
EP: Well, maybe we'll think of something and we'll come back. We certainly appreciate you coming.
EW: I'm glad to do it.
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