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From the Archives: Mystery Box

September 16, 2016

My job as caretaker of the Museum’s historical documents involves dealing with anything old or of unknown origin. Whenever someone cleans up their office or the back corner of the basement, things suddenly show up in my office. I thought everything old had surfaced when we made the big move in 2000 from a building the Museum occupied for more than 80 years to this one. But even after 15 years in this building, people still bring me stuff: mostly papers, sometimes photographic prints and less often, objects. Recently I received a box that was an assortment of birding and fishing tools, magazines, and rum bottles.

Box of hunting and fishing items. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Box of hunting and fishing items. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The items were discovered by our Curator of Ornithology. He thinks they may have been props in the old building’s Ducks and Geese exhibit.

Bird hall exhibit. Note the 8-foot market gun in the upper left. (NCMNS/Danny Lyons)

Bird hall exhibit. Note the 8-foot market gun in the upper left. (NCMNS/Danny Lyons)

That’s a reasonable possibility. But also, some of items may have belonged to our second director, Harry T. Davis. Davis died without issue, therefore some of his personal effects were left at the Museum. These cards certainly belonged to Davis.

Membership cards belonging to Harry Dais. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Membership cards belonging to Museum Director Harry Davis. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The scope and tripod might have belonged to Davis. He was an avid birder and a co-author of Birds of North Carolina.

Old tripod and case. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Old tripod and case. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Part of an old spotting scope for bird watching. (Margaret Cotrufo/NCMNS)

Part of an old spotting scope for bird watching. (Margaret Cotrufo/NCMNS)

There were shotgun shells and fishing gear in the box. I know Harry Davis hunted in his youth. In fact, he lost part of his leg when his brother’s gun accidentally went off at close range. Davis probably fished, too, as many county boys did back in the 30s and 40s.

Trap shells for skeet shooting. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Trap shells for skeet shooting. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The trap shells are probably related to this thing we found in the basement recently.

Skeet thrower. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Skeet thrower. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Fishing gear. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Fishing gear. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The pipe and tobacco probably belonged to Davis or possibly our first director, H.H. Brimley. The slogans on the tobacco tins are interesting: “A cargo of contentment…” and “When a Feller Needs a Friend.” I guess smoking was the equivalent of “comfort food”.

Pipe and tins of tobacco. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Pipe and tins of tobacco. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The brown Briggs tin caught my interest. I googled it hoping to find an interesting tidbit, and to try to find out whether or not they are related to the Briggs Hardware folks. I found similar tins for sale on eBay for $7 to $25, depending condition. As for the tobacco, opinions on the website tobaccoreview.com were favorable “Briggs is a standout light Burley, golden Virginia mixture,” and a “rich burley flavor with tones of a light VA with hints of apple and bourbon.” Burley tobacco was the variety grown in the western part of North Carolina.

Another item that caught my eye was the green AL. Foss tin. Not knowing anything about fishing I thought it was amusing that pork rind could be used as bait. Once again I turned to the internet for insight.

metal tin labeled Al Floss Pork Rind Minnow; the sportsman's lure
According to Joe’s Old Lures, “The baits have a variety of patented spinner blades and many were designed to be used with pork rind strips, having a button for attaching the pork.” [http://www.joeyates.com/alfosslures.htm]

And then there were the whiskey bottles. Most surely liquor was imbibed on a hunting trip but the bottles certainly weren’t on exhibit. (Not that I recall.) We’re not sure why these were included in the box. In case you are wondering, they were empty bottles!

Empty bottles of rum. One bottle is covered with woven wicker.

Empty bottles of rum. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The smallest bottle in the photo is Mennen Skin Bracer, an aftershave lotion. Perhaps it is what it says it is (but why would you need aftershave on a hunting trip?) or maybe someone had to sneak liquor out of the house so his wife didn’t know he was drinking again.

And my favorite item in the box: the Fisherman’s De-liar, complete with ruler and scale:  the perfect gift for someone whose fish stories get bigger with each telling.

Device for measuring and weighing fish. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

Device for measuring and weighing fish. (NCMNS/Margaret Cotrufo)

The only objects in the box I couldn’t recognize right away were these things.

three long, thin wooden items

They did look vaguely familiar. I had a dim memory of a photograph of someone holding one of these. I thought it was the photo of woman with a large seine (fishing) net: the one pictured below.

Old black and white photo of women and children mending large fishing nets.

Women and children mending fishing nets.

But no, you can’t see the tool they were using. Then I remembered a close-up shot of Josephus Willis, the whaleman that killed the right whale “Mayflower” that’s on exhibit in the main building (see Mayflower for more information). In this photo, he is repairing a fishing net. Yes! You can see the tool he was using and it is the same as these tools. They are called net needles.

Josephus Willis, lived 1830 to 1881, fisherman of Diamond City, NC. (Photo used with permission from the Carteret County Historical Society)

Josephus Willis (1830-1881), whaleman (fisherman) of Diamond City, NC. (Photo used with permission from the Carteret County Historical Society.)

And in the bottom of the box were several issues of old hunting magazines.

box of old hunting and fishing magazines

So of course the fisherman’s De-liar went on display in my office while the other items were stored in our Archives.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 5, 2016 10:33 pm

    I used to have one of those Fisherman De-Liar devices… not that I ever caught any fish worth lying about.

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