BLADENBORO — The town of Bladenboro Museum in the Historical Society Building — a building that turns 100 this year — has stories to tell.
According to museum curator Margie Bridger, the museum got its start when C.A. Shaw passed away and his family donated his collection of pictures to the Bladenboro Historical Society. Faced with what to do with the collection, it was decided that the pictures should be compiled into a book, to which Robin Holley devoted five days a week for two years. The 600-page picture book is now for sale in the museum gift shop for $125.
“We’ve sold a thousand of those, but we don’t make but $15 on each one,” said Bridger.
Leafing through the book, Bridger paused at several pictures. One showed five men in costume and colorful face paint.
“That’s a good story,” she said. She and the museum are full of them.
She pointed to one photo of two men carrying a third man on a stretcher. All three were behind an ambulance, on the side of which was a sign reading, “One more vote for C.A. Shaw.” As a joke for mayoral candidate Shaw, two friends had picked up a third convalescent and transported him in the ambulance to vote.
“(Shaw) was always doing things like that,” said Bridger. “He was the most fun person.”
Bridger said, in fact, the whole town was a fun place. Born herself in 1932, she well remembers the days of Bridger Corporation, the Bladenboro Cotton Mill, and the Wonet Theater. The latter opened in 1946, and Bladenboro resident Doris Hester Avant was there the it opened.
“When we arrived … there were so many people there we couldn’t get in to see the first movie,” she recalled in a letter.
Photos show lines of people wrapped around the block, and Bridger said the theater frequently held May Day dances, talent shows, Miss and Mrs. Bladenboro pageants, movies, and fun events like child weddings.
“Look at all those children,” she said, pointing to a photo of around 20 children participating in the mock wedding. “Somebody made all those costumes. Can you imagine?”
“The theater was the center of entertainment,” she went on. “This was before TV or anything like that, so we would go and sit there all day Saturday watching cowboy after cowboy movie — because that was what most movies were — sometimes five or six hours at a time. We had a good time, I tell you that.”
She moved around the room, pointing at various photos and saying, “There’s a story there.”
Standing in the middle of the room is what Bridger called “her favorite thing in the whole room.” Assembled c. 1924, the “name quilt,” as it’s called, is comprised of 20 squares roughly 18 inches each. In the center of each square is an embroidered name with approximately 11 names radiating out from it. The inner name is of the person who did the embroidery, and the surrounding names are people who donated five cents. Documents say proceeds were to benefit the war effort, presumably World War II. Museum curators would have no idea when the quilt was made, save for a single square which the original seamstress embroidered “1924.”
“I could hug her neck for doing that,” Bridger laughed.
Once the individual quilt squares were assembled, the finished product with between 200 and 300 names of Bladenboro residents was raffled off for the price of ten cents per ticket. Bladenboro resident Ed Singletary won the quilt, which was enjoyed by the family for years before it was donated to the museum.
Though she claimed her memory failed her, the 84-year-old Bridger was full of stories about the photos on the walls. One such picture showed a man with a boy, with a caption that read “Half Man and Frog Boy.” Clearly written before the days of political correctness, the article was about a circus performer who spent his off time in Bladenboro, whose people called him “Half Man” because he had no legs and only one arm. He adopted a boy with bowed legs, and the pair were well-known around Bladenboro. Though “Half Man” was known for abuse, he did leave a positive mark on the town, as Bladenboro Cotton Mill trucks bore his art work.
As Bridger was showing the numerous trophies, banners, and wool costumes (there’s a story there) from the town’s semi-pro team, the Bladenboro Spinners, she commented on the state of the museum.
“We’ve got so much stuff, and we need some young people to come in here and help us organize it,” she remarked. “What’s going to happen to all this stuff if people don’t help take care of it?”
For now, anyway, Bladenboro’s secrets are safe. And yes, there’s a story there.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.