King Kong in Durham
Durham’s original sign painter, Kong, could reach the top of most any wall or building in Durham at the time and had a brilliant command of all current trends in visual advertising. It was thanks to him, that during the 1910s, Durham’s visual identity blossomed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t resist the idea of further developing his skills and reputation in New York City. As most know, it was there that Kong faced harsh criticism, ridicule, rejection, and ultimately, his demise.
The William “Bummer” Wall Sign Company
Because of the continued boom of the tobacco industry and the absence of King Kong, the city needed someone to pick up where he left off. William Wall, or “Bummer” as he was known, was the best Durham could muster. To this day, in most any direction one can still see a Wm. Wall Sign – brilliantly painted but not so brilliantly worded. Nonetheless, his work remains a valued part of Durham’s rich visual landscape.
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Durham was home to many noteworthy athletes in the early part of the 20th century. Tom “Shakes” O’Bailey was the undisputed lightweight champion of the Golden Leaf Boxing League until he suffered a career changing injury during a match in Richmond, when his cigarette was knocked into his eye by a mean left jab. He then went on to master the gun sight bottle labeling machine at DT & BAC.Chet “Ace” Duke, a legend in his own mind, was strong, swift, and tough as nails. He was also, as they said in those times, “One letter shy of a Model A.” He was never seen wearing anything but his favorite dress-up costume, a football uniform. This gave the depression-era Durhamites a real laugh and propelled him into a position of admiral local esteem, albeit for different reasons than others in the Duke family.
Chas H. Puffington was an amazing cyclist during the time of the jazz-era’s 6 day races. There’s not too much else to report on Chas, other than his ability to keep a cigarette burning evenly during sustained speeds of up to 35 kilometers per hour.
Walter P. McMurdoch was born in Hillsborough and was known (in addition to his considerable fame as a distance runner) for his tireless promotion of the health benefits of smoking and drinking.
Riding the popularity of Durham’s new turn-of-the-20th-century nickname, Dirt Town, DT & BAC (the ampersand is silent) enjoyed much success as the city’s top distributor of spirits – so long as your spirit of choice was dry gin. DT & BAC simply bottled gin from an undisclosed source in different vessels, each with a different name. Marketing pioneers, DT & BAC were decades ahead of the wits of their customers. “Beauty” gin was a town favorite and its effects had generally great effects on the all-around beauty of Durham’s womenfolk, especially if considered from the point of view of the men consuming it. “Strength” gin suffered a different reputation as it was indirectly to blame for more broken noses and collarbones than early prototypes of the American roller skate. Thanks to “Strength,” Durham enacted prohibition one year earlier than the rest of the nation. DT & BAC switched promptly to bottling seltzer water for a few months before going out of business.
Durham has long enjoyed a rich Blues heritage, but there are many musicians who have failed to garner much credit for their contributions. Wm. Wall took on the recording and documentation of many lesser-known bluesmen. His collection of “Failed Bluesmen of Durham” trading cards have recently served the Durham Historical Society as a crucial resource in unearthing the vast amount of Blues talent that Durham had produced.
Pictured below: from left, clockwise: Unsung Hero Number Whatever, Kevin "Captain Happy" King, and The Drunk Brothers.
Below: from right, clockwise: "Whoops" Willie Williams, Jimmy "Take 12" Taylor, and Deaf Tommy Tones.
During the 1970’s, lawsuits against the tobacco companies began rolling in like waves and resulted in the loss of massive amounts of Durham commerce. Its residents desperately sought steady income and safe neighborhoods, which they found by joining or organizing motorcycle gangs. These gangs almost immediately started warring with each other and mayhem ensued. The 70’s were not just a dangerous time in Durham, they were a time of drastic social reconstruction. The constant battle for control of their neighborhoods and the freshly deserted buildings therein served as a model for future real estate developers. Soon, though, the whole charade grew tiresome. Many residents simply chose to stop being afraid of them and move to Cary. Shown are several jacket patches from various gangs.
The sign, by Wall Sign Co., was originally posted in Duke Gardens, a popular place for gangs to gather, read books, play disc golf, and plan brutal displays of dominance. In its original location the sign was useless. It was proven most effective after being stolen by the Dirt City Chopper Thiefs and remounted outside their hideout to inform the Durham Police that there was no funny business taking place inside. It worked.
And there you have it. That's why I've been a lazy blogger. Anyhow! if you're down to stop by, you can get directions and more info here: http://www.goldenbeltarts.com/newsEvents_Details.php?event_id=41