Ric Flair's birthday, important state symbol news, and TikTok stuff.
Plus, what do you do with the front of a historic building when the back of it no longer exists?
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Blow out your candles with a wooooooooo
I have an unhealthy obsession with two things:
Well guess what? Today is Ric Flair’s 72nd birthday. In this house, I’m treating it like a bank holiday. We’re gonna have a Royal Rumble on the Nugget and the winner gets a Mickey Mouse watch that I’m gonna start calling “My Rolex.”
I’ve met Ric Flair in person twice: Once in the green room at my old TV station, and another time during an interview where I asked him what North Korea was like. He visited that country in 1995 to wrestle Antonio Inoki in a match billed as the Collision in Korea. My video interview with him is gone, but Sports Illustrated did a fantastic oral history of the entire trip, and you can watch the whole 20 minute match below:
I’ve written about Flair before and, if you read Monday’s newsletter and/or are generally aware of wrestling things, you already know that he moved from Charlotte to Atlanta a while back. For a bit, though, I tried to use a hashtag on Twitter, #RicFlairSighting, to keep track of his random, mundane appearances around Charlotte. In honor of his birthday, I encourage you to leave your Ric Flair encounter stories in the comments here:
Also, if you want Ric to cut a promo for the North Carolina Rabbit Hole, all we have to do is raise $500 for him to make us a Cameo.
This Week In ‘That Escalated Quickly’
And now to more vertical videos recorded in the comfort of your own home! I made a TikTok version of Monday’s newsletter, where I revealed the fact that the legendary Gladys Knight has a home in western North Carolina. I wrote a lot of words for that newsletter, and then spent about 5 minutes making and posting a video about it, and I’m here to say that… the video won.
It’s now up to 13,000 views, more than 1,200 likes, and dozens of comments. That might be small potatoes for a kid in high school but a very big deal for me, a 40-year-old man with many button-down shirts and a dying iPhone 7.
Half of the people who replied had no idea but were VERY EXCITED that the Empress of Soul (probably) lives here. The other half were like, yeah, we know already! “My best friends grandma flexes about seeing her grocery shopping all the time 🥺,” wrote a TikTok-er named Carly. Folks, greater Asheville’s hottest club is now Ingles.
Anyway, be ready for more TikToks from me. I am not a good dancer but I’ve worked for years on perfecting a dumb dad mug:
House Bill 2, but for dolphins
House Bill 2 is back! No, not that House Bill 2, this House Bill 2! The one that would make the bottlenose dolphin the official marine mammal of North Carolina. Dolphins! Who doesn’t like dolphins? Nobody, that’s who. It’s about time the state mandated that we show these cute clicking swimmy guys some proper respect.
So, why dolphins? For those answers, let’s take a closer look at the Whereases in this bill:
Whereas, bottlenose dolphins have a short, thick beak and a curved mouth, giving the appearance that they are always smiling.
Animal advocates are always warning us not to project human qualities on to animals BUT LOOKIT HOW HAPPY THE DOLPHIN IS.
Whereas, bottlenose dolphins can swim speeds of over 20 miles per hour, dive as deep as 800 feet below the surface, and can launch themselves up to 15 feet out of the water.
Yeah but can that dolphin run a 4.4 40 or what?
Whereas, bottlenose dolphins are usually gray in color and can range in length from 6 to 13 feet long.
Yeah, sure, I know what dolphins look like, but until I saw this GIF, I did not know what a dog riding a dolphin would look like:
I have, over the years, tried to style myself as an expert on North Carolina’s state symbols. They’re harmless and yet, as I found out while researching an episode of Away Message, they can be political hot potatoes. Competing factions couldn’t agree on what the state berry should be so, well, we have two of them.
As a public service, then, here are three more state symbol-related pieces of dinner party trivia you can use whenever, you know, you can have one of those again:
The first state symbol that’s not a flag, motto, or song was the state flower. The original proposed flower was the flame azalea, which sounds kinda metal. But the state senate said no. Two weeks later, they said yes to the dogwood.
The state bird is now the cardinal, but way back in 1933, lawmakers passed a resolution making the Carolina Chickadee the official state bird. They quickly rescinded that resolution after someone pointed out that the chickadee is also known as the tomtit, and they didn’t want North Carolina to become known as the “Tomtit State.”
In 1965, a legislator from the coast wanted to make the scotch bonnet the official state shell, and tried to bribe, er, convince fellow lawmakers to join him by offering them a scotch bonnet, for free! Problem was, when that lawmaker went out to find those shells, he could only find two. A senator from Iredell County made fun of that guy, saying that people "don't want to spend their time … horsing around for something that's extinct." (Fact check: they’re not extinct!) The Iredell guy countered by saying the official shell should be the chicken eggshell (hardy har har), but eventually, folks found enough scotch bonnets to pass out, and that’s our official shell today.
Lately, most state symbol ideas late have come from 4th grade class projects, and this one seemed like it fit that mold. But no! The primary sponsor, Rep. Bobby Hanig of Currituck County told me that the bottlenose dolphin bill was his idea. “I believe this is a perfect fit for North Carolina,” he wrote in an email. “The bottlenosed dolphin is loved by all that see them and have an incredible history.” The bill has been stuck in committee for about a month now. A committee that doesn’t appreciate dolphins enough, if you ask me. Maybe this group of lawmakers has lost its porpoise. Amirite?
The holdup here is proof that these kinds of bills don’t have an easy route to the governor’s desk. During the last legislative session, some kids in Gaston County got Rep. John Torbett to introduce a bill to make ice cream the official state frozen treat. That bill passed unanimously in the house but then died in the senate. The exact same thing happened with a bill naming the Moravian cookie as the state cookie, and the osprey as state raptor. In 2019, a similar dolphin bill also died in the senate. That’s right, the Symbol-Hatin’ Senate.
For what it’s worth, this would amuse former state senator Richard Stevens of Wake County, a state lawmaker who always voted no on every state symbol because … he made a campaign promise to do so. Stevens became so notorious for this that he himself was the subject of a bill that named HIM as an official state symbol. That bill, obviously, did not go far, but it’s fun to watch lawmakers harmlessly troll each other through doomed legislation.
Super Secret State Symbols Of The North Carolina Illuminati
The General Assembly has an official list of more than 50 state symbols. But! One thing that I had not considered was that there could be official state symbols that are hidden somewhere in the voluminous stacks of state statutes and resolutions. Rabbit Hole reader Deans Eatman raised that red flag for me, and alerted me the existence of a SUPER SECRET STATE SYMBOL that doesn’t show up on the official list. It’s the Flat Rock Playhouse up in Henderson County, and it’s not that much of a secret. The place advertises itself as the State Theatre of North Carolina right there on the home page of its website. (It was also founded by a guy named Robroy Farquhar, which is one of the greatest names I’ve ever heard.)
The reason why Flat Rock is not on the “official” list may be sort of a technicality. Insanely knowledgable state legistlature expert Gerry Cohen, who for a very long time was the special counsel to the General Assembly, took a look for me. He pointed out that the Flat Rock Playhouse was made an official state symbol by a joint resolution, and not a session law. Resolutions are, well, just things that point out things and have no real enforcement mechanism. Quite honestly, they’re used to honor people or to make statements. So, because the playhouse designation was a resolution, and not a law, presumably that’s the reason why it didn’t make the list. Apparently, Gerry says, lawmakers must have been on a drama kick, because two days before, they passed another joint resolution honoring the state’s summer theaters.
But Deans’s point is interesting. Are there other state symbols hiding somewhere that we’ve forgotten about?
Also, North Carolina’s lawbooks still have a whole section on public holidays which, um, still includes Robert E. Lee’s birthday.
What do you do with a storefront with … nothing behind it?
I haven’t had cable in a really long time, so it’s been a bit since I’ve watched some HGTV. But one of the pieces of advice that I remember was that a new coat of paint would solve a lot of problems. Hence, I was trying to figure out what’s going on with the buildings shown here. As you can see in the top picture, there’s a lot of work that’s gone into a facade with… absolutely nothing behind it.
It turns out that Stantonsburg, a city of 633 in Wilson County, has an “Appearance Committee.” That committee painted what was left of the old Seal Building, installed shutters over what used to be windows, and recently added a shelter over the sidewalk there on Main Street. It looks great, but it’s hard to have a store when your storefront is 100% front and no store.
OR IS IT?! The town is working on creating a courtyard behind the facade that could attract outdoor events like a farmers’ market, be a home for pop-up businesses, or even bring Stantonburg’s own Crepe Myrtle Festival back downtown to Main Street. According to the minutes of the town council’s meetings, the committee is clearing the debris out of the lot behind those buildings, and wants to eventually install electrical lines and a fence around the back side of the property. I’ve seen a lot of hollowed-out downtowns on my travels around this state, but this seems like a cool idea to keep history intact while moving on to something more practical.
I haven’t been to Stantonsburg yet. But when I get there, you best believe I’m gonna TikTok it.
I, Jeremy Markovich, am a journalist, writer, and producer based outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. If you liked this, you might like Away Message, my podcast about North Carolina’s hard-to-find people, places, and things. Season 4 was all about the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Author avatar by Rich Barrett.
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I had numerouse brushes with Ric before he moved to the ATL. I used to belong to his Gold's Gym franchise location in Southpark and he was there every afternoon it seemed. Once on Mother's Day I ran into him buying a card at the Cotswold Hallmark store. In the mid-2000's I used to fly into Wash Dulles a lot and probably rode on the same plane about 5 times. I wasn't a celeb stalker so never said more than "Hey" but he was always outgoing and kind to folks everywhere.