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An Interview with Chapel Hill Memories' Charly Mann

On July 18th 2012 I traveled to Oklahoma to interview Charly Mann, the creator and primary author of Chapel Hill Memories, to get background material for a book I am writing about Chapel Hill. The following is transcript of that interview.

Kathy Brown: I’ve been reading your articles in Chapel Hill Memories for several years and wondered how you know so much about the place.

Charly Mann: Actually Kathy that’s a funny question to me. I have not lived in Chapel Hill for more than twenty years and I was simply searching the Internet in early 2008 looking for some history of the town and discovered there was very little to be found. To make a long story short I hired a programmer to build the Chapel Hill Memories website so that everyone who has ever lived in the town could contribute their recollections about the people, places, and events that they remembered. My plan was just to seed the site with a few stories that I thought a lot of Chapel Hillians would enjoy and then pretty much step away as many others would submit their recollections which my webmaster would post.

Unfortunately few others have contributed and I have become the de facto historian of the town.

Kathy: From the scope and depth of your articles it is apparent you know not only a lot about Chapel Hill from the years you lived there, but from the time it was founded.

Charly: Thanks Kathy. I learned a lot about the town when I was young from about a dozen mostly grey-haired citizens who were fascinating raconteurs who could go on for thirty minutes or more with a story from the past. Fortunately I started a journal when I was about nine and recorded a lot of these stories.

Kathy: Where did they spin their tales?

Charly: It seems like everywhere I went. From the barber shop, to the stores I hung out in, and especially from older friends of my parents who we would visit in the evening or have over to dinner.

Kathy: What inspired you to start a journal at such a young age?

Charly: Actually I think it had a lot to do with a learning disability I have called dyslexia. Back then, in the mid-1950s, the doctors and other specialists my parents took me to just could not figure out why I was having so much trouble reading, spelling, and pronouncing a lot of words. By the third grade I had lost interest in school and began using the time I should have been doing homework to write or draw in my journal. Usually I recorded conversations between my parents and their friends or some local merchant and one of their customers.

Kathy: That’s fascinating did you record many of the conversations and things you were doing with your friends as well?

Charly: Actually I did that very rarely. I think I intuitively knew I could learn more by listening to adults than other kids.

Kathy: Did you do much reading then?

Charly: No Kathy, not until I was about sixteen. My brain is wired very differently from a normal person’s. For me this means the left side and right side do not sync up very well and it took me until I was sixteen before I began to develop tricks that allowed me to read with decent comprehension. Writing and spelling are still very challenging to me.

Kathy: What are some of your tricks?

Charly: Well the one that saved me I did not learn until I was about to start the tenth grade. I also do not think I could have employed it anywhere but Chapel Hill at that time. It involved taking long strolls across the UNC campus and the woods below Gimghoul Castle on a daily basis where I would repeat over and over information from classroom lectures or important facts from my textbooks that I wrote down on 3x5 index cards. I never felt like I was studying in a conventional sense but instead was enjoying the wonders of nature and the beauty of the UNC campus. These walks usually lasted three to five hours, but when I finally got home I always felt mentally and physically invigorated. I also went from being a “D” and “C” student to straight “A”s, often in honors classes, for the rest of my educational career.

Kathy: One of things I envy about you is that you had a hometown to grow up in. I don’t feel like I had a "hometown" as I moved several times as a child, and only lived in Chapel Hill between the ages of 12 and 17.

Charly: I’m not sure you are missing out in the long run. After leaving Chapel Hill more than twenty years ago, I have lived in Florida, California, Texas, and now Oklahoma. I have a love and loyalty to all these places. My philosophy is that one should just enjoy the world around you wherever you are. Having a great life just requires making good choices.

Kathy: Do you miss living in Chapel Hill?

Charly: Chapel Hill is still a magnificent place, but it is no longer the beautiful friendly village I grew up in where you knew almost everyone in town and no one would dream of locking the door of their house or car. Much of what I see of today is characterless suburban sprawl. The Chapel Hill I grew up in for better and worse does not exist anymore.

Kathy: Do you keep up with many people from Chapel Hill?

Charly: Well first of all a lot of my family still live in Chapel Hill. I do also have old friends living in town or in surrounding communities, but the majority of my Chapel Hill friends left long ago and are scattered around the country. I actually see, write, and talk to many more of these ex-Chapel Hillians than those living there now. On the other hand, as a result of Chapel Hill Memories I do get a lot of e-mails from Chapel Hillians that I had not known, or was only casually acquainted with when I lived there.

Kathy: Do you get a lot of the information for your articles from these people?

Charly: Surprisingly very little. We live in a very discombobulating time. In the digital age everyone seems to be multitasking yet no one has the time to concentrate and write down a detailed recollection of a person, place, or event from their life in Chapel Hill. I do however get a lot of very short e-mails in which someone will mention a business, person, or event that was important to them and usually suggest that I should write an article about it. Interestingly a lot of those suggestions even encourage me to write about their parent or a business that was owned or managed by them or their family.

Kathy: From some things you said in your Chapel Hill Memories articles I surmise you are not too keen on technology and the Internet.

Charly: On the contrary. I am a technology junkie. My house and office are full of computers and I have a huge collection of music, movies, and photographs digitized to access through my many iPads and iPods. I also have a degree in computer programming and have taught programming for several years on the college level as well as owned and operated one computer hardware and two software companies.

What I am not excited about is socializing on the web. I do not believe Facebook, Twitter, or texting is a substitute for a physical life. Socialization to me means face-to-face contact and all of the body language and implicit information that come with it.

Kathy: Do you think Chapel Hill has changed much because of the Internet?

Charly: From my own experience, I think quite a lot. For example I joined Facebook to keep up with a lot of people in Chapel Hill. What I loved and remember most warmly about the place when I was living there was a community of passionate, creative, innovative, non-conformists. Today I think the Internet culture, most personified by Facebook, has turned that around. Whether one is 15 or 65 most Facebook members are always being confronted with the content of other friends and we quickly become aware what content gets the most Facebook “like”s. Social success on Facebook means having hundreds of friends, and many of our friends “liking” what we have posted. This in turn rewards conformity and mediocrity and penalizes those with iconoclastic interests or opinions. When you are looking at someone else's content—whether a video or a news story—you are able to see first how many people liked it and which of the friends you share liked it. This encourages us not to form our own opinion but to look to others for cues on how to feel.

Kathy: I wonder if you are just a bit jealous because it was almost impossible to have so many friends when you were growing up.

Charly: First I am quite skeptical that one can have more than half a dozen real friends. I confess that is all that I keep up with on a regular basis. By this I mean people who I at least weekly see for a meal or other activity, exchange a lengthy letter with, or have at least a half hour phone conversation with.

What worries me is that young people who should be developing themselves based on who they are on the inside are instead trying to conform from the like “stats” they can achieve. The result I think will be a steep decline in self-esteem, and an even heavier reliance than today on anti-depressants, alcohol, and other drugs.

Kathy: Does this bother you about the culture in general or are you speaking specifically about Chapel Hill?

Charly: I am sure this is pervasive in the modern world, but my concern is most for a town that for decades was well-known for being an incubator of great writers, songwriters, business innovators, and scientists simply because of the great diversity of people and ideas they were constantly exposed to. Today the people I come in contact with from Chapel Hill are much more monolithic and homogenous. This kind of culture squelches pioneers and rebels. The people I learned the most from were people who often rocked the community’s boat, eloquently spoke their own mind, and were not afraid to take risks. For example Chapel Hill always had a liberal tradition which I am proud to have been part of, but it was often in the minority or at least tempered by a sizeable conservative intelligentsia. Now, as far as I can see, that balance is gone.

Kathy: What other major changes have you seen in Chapel Hill in your lifetime?

Charly: The first one that comes to mind is the obsession with having the best college basketball team in the country every year. Carolina had the most amazing basketball season in its history in 1957 when I was a young boy going 32-0 and winning the NCAA championship against a basketball team far better than them, yet except for a few weeks of celebration, basketball passion did not overwhelm the community. I do not recall then a single store in town even selling a UNC basketball t-shirt of any kind

Today UNC basketball permeates the community and the only good season is one in which UNC beats Duke in all of its games as well as winning the NCAA championship. When I was growing up one was elated over any UNC victory in basketball, football, or baseball, and often there were more defeats than victories in a season. Today I have had several current Chapel Hill friends tell me it is not fun seeing, listening to, or going to a UNC game unless they win since that is always what is expected. In my day it was not national championship or bust it was simply did we play as good as we could. I often felt a great deal of joy when UNC held its own, but was eventually defeated by a better manned or coached team.

Kathy: Thanks for your time Charly.

Charly: I enjoyed talking to you.

Interview by Kathy Brown



Derick Fredericson      9:21 PM Sun 7/22/2012

Charly, <br \> <br \>I have been enjoying your articles on Chapel Hill Memories for several years now, but I have to admit I didn&#39;t really have an appreciation for how difficult it might be to keep the content rolling since you have written so many great pieces and it seemed to be effortless. Then again, I guess anything seems effortless when you&#39;re just standing on the sidelines enjoying the results. Hearing you describe your learning disability, challenges with writing, and the fact that you are creating all of this at such a distance from the town makes me realize how much work this must be for you. Please keep it up. <br \> <br \>And thanks to Kathy for interviewing Charly to give us &quot;an inside view&quot; into the man behind the history. <br \> <br \>Derick

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Bite Sized Facts Link for Useful facts, financial success, universal truths, and great health info

Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.



What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt



Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".



Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies


We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.





There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.



The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.





The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.





William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.



The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.



Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.



We need your help. Send your submissions, ideas, photos, and questions to CHMemories@gmail.com.



Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.



The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.



Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.



Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.



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