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The little town of Rhodhiss lost the businesses and industry that gave the town its name. But it still has a legend that came out of them, the fate of some unusual fabric spun in a now-closed mill.

Four years ago, in July 2015, one of my reporters was doing a more or less routine story related to the legend, and I Googled part of her story and found something that indicated the legend was wrong. I had her look into it.

What she wound up writing made her feel bad because it made the News-Topic a villain in that town, but it didn’t put much of a dent in the legend, which the town is celebrating on this 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

One of the famous movie lines related to journalism, from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” is “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It’s a good line, but it’s not journalism. I don’t know whether many journalists would do what the newspaper editor in the movie did, reject running the real story told by U.S. Sen. Ransom Stoddard, and I don’t think it makes sense to ignore the facts that fly against Rhodhiss’ legend, as satisfying as the legend may feel.


And as the main source in the story said, this doesn’t mean there is nothing at all to the legend, only that some research is needed to find out exactly what was done with that fabric. Maybe, for instance, the bag under the lunar lander …

 

 

 

 

 

Read the story and decide yourself.

Rhodhiss’ point of pride called into question

By Lex Menz

RHODHISS – It’s common knowledge throughout town that fabric used to make at least the first flag to go to the moon, if not more, came from Burlington Industrial Fabrics, which once had two factories in town.

But what if it isn’t true?

As you drive into Rhodhiss, the road signs show an astronaut in a space suit over the words “U.S. Moon Flags Woven Here.”

An astronaut also appears on the town seal.

A scrap of material sits folded up in a drawer at Town Hall that came, it is said, from the same batch as the moon flag material.

Town Manager Art Delaney never even considered that the story could be wrong until he recently called the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources in Raleigh about getting a historical marker for the town about the flag fabric having been made in Rhodhiss. The person he spoke to said that according to information on the Internet, his story was incorrect.

“She said they were pulled off a shelf at a post exchange in Washington, D.C., and just handed off,” Delaney said. “I nearly fell off my chair.”

Delaney wouldn’t be the only one falling off of a chair. Many people around town have personal stories about their connection to the flag fabric.

Carl Compton, who lives on the Caldwell County side of Rhodhiss, worked at Burlington Industrial Fabrics as a weaver right out of high school in 1961 and eventually was promoted to loom fixer. The company made special materials, including material for the Goodyear blimp and fabrics for NASA. Among the fabric made on the 64-inch looms was one that Compton said was extremely heat-resistant and involved Kevlar, a fabric best known for its use in bulletproof vests.

Shortly after the flag was unfurled on the moon in July 1969 by Apollo 11, the mission carrying astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Compton said, Burlington Industrial’s employees were informed of their accomplishment.

“We didn’t know what we had done,” he said. “It really surprised us.”

Compton said the company’s announcement was a proud moment.

“We were just working. That was our job. We weren’t trying to crow about it. But, if I had known, I would have gotten some pictures,” Compton said.

But Rhodhiss’ flag story doesn’t fly, according to Anne Platoff, who wrote a research paper in the early 1990s, when she worked at the Johnson Space Center, about all six of the flags that were taken to the moon.

“It’s an interesting story, but it’s unverified,” Platoff said of Rhodhiss’ story.

Her research paper, “Where No Flag has Gone Before: Political and Technical Aspects of Placing a Flag on the Moon,” details considerations that went into the flags and flag poles and where they came from, and no part of that story includes Rhodhiss. Her sources included a press release from NASA in July 1969 stating that the flags were ordinary nylon flags ordered from a catalog.

“I went through the evidence there was at NASA, and the only documentation I found at NASA was that it was purchased from a government stock catalog,” Platoff said. “As a historian, I will only go with what facts I have. I have found absolutely no evidence that points to who made the flag on the moon. I found no indication that it was a specifically made flag.”

However, she said Rhodhiss may have been involved in the Apollo 11 mission, just not in the way residents think. Possibly the material woven there was used for the flag patches on the spacesuits or some part of the ship. But that would take some research to find out.

“Maybe this is one of those cross stories with some truth,” Platoff said.

Delaney said the state will send him an application for a historical marker, which requires a packet of information to back the town’s claim.

“We’re going to send it back and see if we could get something,” Delaney said.

Ansley Wegner, a research historian and the administrator of the Department of Cultural Responses’ historical marker program, said the decisions on applications for historical markers are made by a committee of 10 history professors. Stipulations include that the information supporting the marker request must have a secondary source, such as a historical non-fiction book.

“It’s hard to say what the committee is going to approve,” Wegner said. “It’s up to them to decide whether it’s state historical importance and not local historical importance.”

Hudson, North Carolina, is a thriving vacation hotspot where several hundred property owners are making an outrageous amount of money from renting rooms or entire houses to well-heeled tourists.

Or so says an email I received this past week touting a “study” of data from websites “like Airbnb and VRBO,” two sites where people can post property for short-term rentals. These have become increasingly popular ways for people to find places to stay while on vacation or traveling for business.

The email came from the “head of media and PR” for a website called AllTheRooms, which calls itself “the world’s first vacation rental search engine” and “a trusted source of vacation rental market data for a number of organizations.”

If the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau trusts AllTheRooms, maybe I should too.

According to AllTheRooms, Caldwell County’s own Hudson is the 472nd fast-growing vacation rental market in the United States. There were 435 rental properties in Hudson listed online as of May, an increase of over 14 percent from a year earlier.

What’s more, they rent at an average of over $1,100 a night and are booked an average of 58 nights a year.

Hudson rental hosts took in nearly $9 million from May 2018 to May 2019.

Consider that Hudson’s entire population was 3,698 in the Census Bureau’s 2017 estimate. If there are 435 rental properties in town, that’s a huge percentage of the overall number of parcels in town.

Clearly, Hudson’s wealthy tourist trade is the best kept secret in Caldwell County. Money is just sloshing around the town, yet no one in the rest of the county knew it.

Funny thing, though. If you search Airbnb or VRBO, you get results that are not just wildly different from what AllTheRooms touted, the results are from an entirely different universe.

Airbnb shows zero rentals available within the Hudson town limits. There are about a dozen in all of Caldwell County, ranging from $40 to $140 (the most expensive is for a full house atop a mountain near Zacks Fork Road).

VRBO shows two rentals in the Hudson town limits, one for $79 a night but one in the neighborhood of AllTheRooms’ numbers: $669 a night for a two-bedroom, one-bath loft with room for two people.

I thought maybe AllTheRooms simply had a typo and sent me data for Hudson, NY, instead of Hudson, NC, but on Airbnb and VRBO the rentals available in that other Hudson fall well short of the nightly rental cited in the email, though at least the number of rentals available is closer.

So I decided to check a different market entirely: Atlanta, listed by AllTheRooms as the 14th fastest-growing vacation rental market, with 6,923 rental properties going for an eye-popping average of $1,858 a night.

That’s what the list said.

That’s not what Airbnb says.

Airbnb says there are 306 rentals in Atlanta, and a huge percentage appear to be less than $100 a night.

VRBO also shows more than 300 places, though many are pricier than on Airbnb — but nowhere close to $1,800 a night.

It’s a terrible thing when you can’t trust a stranger’s email from a website you never heard of to give you accurate numbers on secret tourist millions in a nearby town. It makes me wonder whether the Los Angeles CVB and the other organizations listed as trusting AllTheRooms really do trust it.

What is the world coming to?

Mostly, though, I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to do a news story about all the new wealth flooding Hudson. That would have been exciting.


I learned a lot about bats and rabies the past few days.

The main thing I learned is that many people are not rational about bats.

A bat got in my house. We don’t know quite how. When we eventually found where it hid, I was able to cover it with an old T-shirt and get it out of the house.

That, to me, was that.

Some well meaning friends and coworkers disagreed. They urged us to get rabies shots.

“If bats are rabid, they shed the disease as they fly,” one said, so we probably had been exposed.

This seemed unlikely to me.

And yet, the urgency of those warnings lingered in my mind and made me finally call a doctor – who agreed with me and, it turns out, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says, “People can’t get rabies just from seeing a bat in an attic, in a cave, at summer camp, or from a distance while it is flying. In addition, people can’t get rabies from having contact with bat guano (feces), blood, or urine, or from touching a bat on its fur.”

Further, bats rarely contract rabies, the CDC says: Even among bats submitted for rabies testing because they could be captured, were obviously weak or sick, or had been captured by a cat, only about 6 percent had rabies.

Merlin Tuttle, one of the world’s leading bat conservationists, wrote in an article on his website, “Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation,” that the risk of humans getting rabies from a bat – even a rabid bat – is highly exaggerated:

“Given the consequences of a wrong decision, it is appropriate to take each possible exposure to rabies extremely seriously, … . However, simply being near or even touching a rabid animal is not considered to be an exposure, … . An exposure requires a bite or contact between an open wound or mucous membrane with saliva or nervous tissue from an infected animal.”

Regardless of these assurances, some people argued that it would be better to be safe.

“Here’s the scary thing: by the time you have symptoms of rabies, it’s too late and almost always fatal,” one wrote to me on Facebook.

Maybe. But 100 percent assurance carries its own cost.

Last year, a woman who encountered a bat in Georgia and wasn’t certain whether it bit her got treatment, which cost $17,000. A woman in Maryland paid $11,000, and one in North Carolina paid $22,000.

In all of those cases, though, there was either a bite or a suspected bite, and doctors recommended getting treatment.

In our case, the only thing that bit me may have been karma. My mother was quick to assert that the bat in our house was divine justice because once, many years ago, while my parents were away from home I took a furry, toy bat and thumbtacked it to the ceiling in their bedroom.

If having a bat in my own house was punishment for frightening my parents, and I had it to do over, I’d tack that sucker to the ceiling again.

It was hilarious.

What are you afraid of?

Most of us are afraid of things that very rarely happen, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 North Carolina residents by Elon University.

Well, except for being shot in a public place. That USED to be pretty rare, but a majority — 51 percent — perceives that it’s at least somewhat of a possibility now, and more than a third, 37 percent, feel they are very much at risk.

The poll asked people how safe they personally feel about 37 hypothetical risks. “Shootings in public” topped the list of what people felt least safe about. Only 7 percent said they felt very safe.

But close behind that was terrorism, with 33 percent feeling very unsafe and only 7 feeling very safe.

What’s most odd about that is that there is very little difference how people in our state’s big cities feel about the risk of terrorism and how those in sparsely populated counties feel. In fact, more rural residents — 34 percent — than urban residents — 30 percent — feel very unsafe, even though there has never been a terror attack in a rural part of the United States for the very obvious reason that in order to inspire terror, there have to be a lot of people hurt and a lot of TV cameras nearby to broadcast the news. It would take over an hour for some TV crews to get to Pineola in Avery County from Charlotte.

Things make a little more sense if you combine the “very unsafe” and “somewhat unsafe” answers.

Then the thing that the most people feel at least somewhat unsafe about is walking along roads that don’t have sidewalks, 66 percent. Only 5 percent feel very safe about it.

People are very slightly more afraid of snakes (a total of 56 percent feel either very or somewhat unsafe) and ticks (57 percent) than tornadoes (51 percent).

The same amount of people, 16 percent, feel equally unsafe about dogs and deer, but more (31 percent) feel very safe about deer (only 27 percent feel very safe about dogs).

And again, urban and rural residents feel exactly the same level of risk about deer — 4 percent very unsafe in both, even though there are a lot more deer in Kings Creek than Raleigh.

People are least afraid of trains: Only 4 percent feel very unsafe about trains, and just 8 percent feel even somewhat unsafe.

On the other hand, people feel pretty darned safe about driving — only 5 percent very unsafe and 20 percent somewhat unsafe — even though there are literally hundreds of traffic accidents each day across the state and being a good driver has little to do with it — at least half of the drivers involved do nothing wrong. Some multi-car wrecks have only one driver at fault, and if something falls onto the road — a tree, a jumping deer, a big rock thrown by an angry teenager, a fish dropped by an eagle — then no driver is at fault.

But the poll left a lot of areas of risk uncovered.

For instance, what about your coffee shop exploding, not because of terrorism but plain old natural gas? It happened in Durham on Wednesday and killed the shop’s owner, injured nearly 20 people, destroyed one big building and damaged several others.

What about losing your job by accident? Just happened to a judge in Texas because he told someone he planned to run for higher office, and the Texas state constitution says a candidacy announcement by anyone holding a judicial office amounts to an official resignation. (Seems like a judge ought to be familiar with that, though.)

Perhaps most importantly, what about the risk of bees living inside your eyes? Just this past week a woman in Taiwan went to her doctor about pain in her eye, and the doctor found four sweat bees had somehow gotten into her eye socket, surviving there by drinking her tears. We have sweat bees in every county in North Carolina — you stand far more chance in Sawmills of encountering sweat bees than terrorists, and now they know humans are edible.

Good luck if your eyes don’t itch for the rest of the day.

Thank your teachers

This is adapted from a column that ran in the Lenoir News-Topic.

My mother was a newspaper reporter, but she’s not the person who was the biggest catalyst in my decision to become a writer.

For a large chunk of my childhood, I intended to become an artist.

When I entered high school, art was still the only thing I had considered pursuing. My mother encouraged me and, trying to help me find a way to make a living at it, even took me to see what commercial artists do.

I drew all the time — when I wasn’t reading comic books or science fiction novels. (I was a nerd. Shocking, I know.)

During my freshman year of high school, I read a novel by a retired general speculating how World War III would start and be conducted, and I wrote a book review on it and left it with the English teacher who was the faculty adviser for the school paper.

The next time I entered her room, she made a bee line for me. I have a clear memory of her locking eyes with me and crossing straight to me, complimenting my writing and encouraging me to submit more writing for the paper. I did. I started with more book reviews, and over time mostly I wrote humor columns, but I did some feature stories, and eventually I signed up to be the school’s teen correspondent for a monthly citywide special section of high school news that the local newspaper published.

By my senior year, I was the editor of the school paper, and my focus had shifted entirely to studying journalism in college and becoming a reporter.

Believe it or not, my mother wasn’t necessarily happy with this change. She told me, “You will never have any money,” because reporters were not paid well. (Some things never change.) But I couldn’t be dissuaded.

I might have become a writer without that teacher’s encouragement, but she certainly nursed the writer that I didn’t yet know was inside of me.

That teacher’s name was Kathy Kochevar. We called her Miss K.

Writing about it now, I wish someone had prompted me at some point over the years to let her know all of this.

There are many other teachers who stand out in my memories.

There’s Mr. Curran, the geometry teacher, whose lessons were punctuated with a superhero he invented: Bisectorman, the Winged Avenger of Angles.

There’s Mrs. Burgess, who taught Spanish II and III and provided great leeway for my sense of humor in my homework. For instance, for an assignment requiring us to submit a list of sentences that demonstrated the proper conjugation of a variety of verbs, I submitted sentences saying such things as, “The river of hamburgers is yellow,” and, “Put it in my eye!” For another assignment requiring two-person teams to write an entire narrative and read it to the class, a friend and I wrote a “Dick and Jane” story in which Spot eventually went on a rampage, killed Dick and Jane, became radioactive, grew to enormous size and destroyed a city. (We got an A and were asked to recite our story for the advanced class.)

Many students feel deeply affected by particular teachers, and in my newspaper in Lenoir I asked for students, parents, graduates, volunteers or anyone else to write in about great teachers and what they have done.

I also will try to get this column to Miss (probably now Mrs.) K.

All of us make questionable decisions.

I remember, for instance, the day in 1982 when I was driving my 1968 Mustang in Phoenix, Arizona, much faster than was prudent on a road that gradually curved to the left. It is vital to this story that you understand that the car had leather, bench-style seats, and while the car had seat belts, those seat belts were detached and sitting loose in the trunk. Therefore, by the time I completed the curve, I was steering from the passenger side of the front seat, where I had slid.

That’s just one of many poor choices I have made in my life, and one of the few I am willing to share.

Happily, though, none of my poor decisions has involved putting shoe polish on my face or attempting to blackmail the richest man in the world, which are two of the biggest poor decisions in the news the past week.

Perhaps I would have made at least the first of those decisions if I had hit my teens or 20s while living in Virginia, where during the 1970s and ‘80s apparently every young white man out for fun on the town donned blackface and posed in front of a camera to immortalize his stupidity.

Luckily, though, my family lived in Virginia for only a couple of years and moved to North Carolina when I was 6. I did not live in Virginia again until I was nearly 36. The only things I ever slathered on my face were red and gray paint (my high school colors), Oxy10 (acne ointment), sunscreen, and aloe vera when I forgot the sunscreen.

It also has never occurred to me to try to blackmail or extort someone with unlimited means to fight back, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, says the owner of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., attempted to do to him. The Enquirer threatened to publish suggestive or lewd photos it had acquired that Bezos and his mistress had exchanged.

I can only imagine the conversation behind such a decision.

Enquirer stooge: “Hey, boss, I thought of a sure-fire way to get the richest man in the world to do what we want!”

Boss: “That would be a great thing, to have control of such a man. What is your plan?”

Stooge: “A secret source of mine gave me these sexy photos from his phone that he and his girlfriend sent back and forth.”

Boss: “Oh, yes?”

Stooge: “Yes.”

Boss: “Interesting.”

Stooge: “I’ll say. So what if we tell him that unless he does what we want, we’ll publish these photos and embarrass him? He’s sure to beg us and offer to do anything just so he won’t be embarrassed. It has never failed.”

Boss: “Now, this is the same man who made his billions founding a high-tech company, right? A company that relies on top security technology.”

Stooge: “Yeah, that’s him.”

Boss: “So he knows basically all of the top computer security experts in the world on a first-name basis, right?”

Stooge: “Well, he probably does.”

Boss: “And in theory he could spend many millions of dollars, far more than we have, to find out how we acquired those photos, take us to court and ruin us, leaving us to beg for pennies in the streets …”

Stooge: “Well, I mean, if you want to be pessimistic about it, maybe …”

Boss: “Hmmm.”

Stooge: “So what do you say, boss?”

Boss: “It’s a bold move. I say do it.”

Maybe the conversation didn’t go that way. But it’s hard to think of a reason no one involved didn’t consider what might go wrong with the plan. They even got lawyers involved. Perhaps they hired really bad lawyers – another poor decision.

I don’t say that I will never make a bad decision that tops these. After all, I’m on social media. That alone raises the odds. I drink beer – higher odds yet. Like many people, I have a smartphone and have Wi-Fi at home. In some ways, you could say that I and many others of us are practically begging for our darker angels to prod us into doing something impulsively stupid that will haunt us forever.

I hope by now I’m old enough to have enough healthy awareness of my own fragility to make me back away.

But I admit, anything’s possible.

I just find it hard to imagine.

I need to get this on the record so local law enforcement officials will know what to do if something happens to me: The News-Topic’s photographer, David Prewitt, tried to murder me, and the only thing that stopped him was a hitchhiker.

I was walking down the sidewalk on Main Street in downtown Lenoir after work one day last week, and as I approached West Avenue but was still several paces north of it a blue Honda that I did not initially recognize as David’s pulled up to the intersection, facing west on West Avenue. He had a red light. I had a green light and stepped off the curb to cross.

When I was right in front of it, suddenly the Honda surged forward.

I jumped past the car.

In David’s passenger seat, the hitchhiker screamed, and David hit the brakes.

That’s when I saw it was David who almost killed me.

Later, he tried to pass it off as an accident.

“I couldn’t see you,” he said.

“That’s why you are supposed to look both ways before pulling out,” I said.

“The sun was in my eyes,” he said.

“The sun was west of you. I was north by several paces when you got to the light.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t suspect him. After all, my wife has been telling me for years that most people do not look both ways before turning right on red, they only look to the left to see if there is traffic coming.

But have you met David? Something about him seems shifty.

He also hates old-fashioned country music. I’m not fond of “new country,” much of which to my middle-aged ears sounds like pop with a Southern accent, but it’s hard to trust someone who grew up in the South but won’t give Johnny, Merle and Hank even a chance.

I’ll try to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, we have to work together. And most of the time, he’s kind-hearted to a fault. He has offered a room to co-workers needing a place to stay. He always gives me his chocolate chip cookie when he buys lunch at KFC. He seems to be on friendly terms with most everyone in the county.

But that all may be an act. Maybe he acts nice because he’s trying to get everyone’s guard down so he can kill them just when they least suspect it. Who would suspect such a nice guy? It would be the perfect crime.

Maybe when I stepped into view he saw his chance to be rid of a demanding though brilliant boss and forgot he had picked up the hitchhiker until she screamed, which reminded him there would be a witness to his crime. Maybe that’s the only reason he hit the brakes.

If I turn up dead, someone show this column to Chief Brent Phelps of the Lenoir Police Department. It may help speed the investigation.