Book chronicles state’s history one day at a time

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Ansley Herring Wegner has become an expert in North Carolina trivia.

Wegner, who grew up in Wilson and graduated from Hunt High School in 1985, knows about the three famous sets of N.C. conjoined twins, the man crowned “King of the Cherokee” in 1730 and that North Carolina was the first former Confederate state that offered artificial limbs to Confederate amputees.

Since 2012, Wegner and her co-workers at the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resource’s Office of Archives and History have been sharing history and trivia on a blog known as This Day in North Carolina History. Now a book by the same name that she edited combines 1,172 stories and many archival photos related to North Carolina history.

“It took so long, and now I want people to love it, open it and look up their birthday,” she said in a phone interview.

The 378-page book is arranged by days. So if you want to know what happened on June 9, for instance, you flip to that day. There are three vignettes for June 9. You can read about the Confederate blockage runner SS Pevensey running aground at Pine Knoll Shores in 1864, Texas Pete getting its registered trademark in 1953 and Asheville’s Robert Moog incorporating his musical instrument company in 1978. Moog invented the Moog synthesizer.

Each date has up to five stories, but most have fewer.

Dec. 19 has two. Wegner said she spent two to three days searching for something with significance that happened that date and eventually had to tie it to the encampment at Valley Forge. The N.C. Brigade was there. Also on Dec. 19, in 1929, Gov. O. Max Gardner gave a Live at Home dinner to emphasize products and industry in the state.

Wegner was also happy to find a historically significant event for leap day, Feb. 29. On that day in 1964, Boone Trail High School and Angier High School played the state’s longest basketball game, with 13 overtimes.

People read the book in different ways, Wegner said. Usually, they check their birthday first, then other significant days in their life. Some start at the beginning, and others read it a day at a time, she said.

The This Day in North Carolina History blog was the idea of the department’s information and marketing department. Topics were picked for certain days, and people in the office signed up to write the stories. In the four years of the blog, staff members were always looking for new things, Wegner said. The vignettes were published on the blog and were read on the North Carolina News Network.

After four years, Wegner said it was getting harder and harder to find new items for each day. When the project ended, Wegner suggested publishing a coffee table book to compile the popular information.

Wegner, administrator of the Highway Historical Marker Program, doesn’t have a favorite story in the book. “There are so many that I love,” she said, including those with Wilson connections. Wilson makes appearances in several items.

Check Jan. 3 to read about Alpheus Branch of Wilson, who founded what is now BB&T; he died on Jan. 3, 1893, at age 50. Other Wilson mentions include Willis Napoleon Hackney and the Hackney wagon manufacturing business; movie star Ava Gardner, who lived in Wilson County for a few years; and W.D. Pender, who was injured at Gettysburg.

Some of the most popular blog posts over the years involve a dark or curious side of life.

“People really love the murder and the oddities,” Wegner said.

In fact, the department has decided to start a new blog focusing on murder and mayhem in North Carolina. That blog should launch in 2019, she said.

“This Day in North Carolina History,” can be purchased through UNC Press or at Amazon. Locally, The Nook in Brentwood plans to carry the book.