In 35 years at the Observer, the now-retired Lew Powell accumulated quite a bit of minutiae some of historical significance, some of the 'worlds largest two-headed cow' variety. While he dealt for years with serious business on the editorial pages, his appreciation of the singular and absurd aspects of Charlotte and North Carolina came through every last Sunday in December in his Carolina Follies presentation of oddly telling news items from the just-completed year.
This month, Powell donated a different kind of trove to the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC Chapel Hill: about 40 travel decals from around the state the kind vacationers once bought and affixed to their rear or side windows to show where theyd been.
Though a coast-to-coast novelty item from the 1940s through the 60s, they are as rare today as the Fairlanes and Bel Airs they were stickered to.
Powell estimates there were perhaps 60 decals over the years that showed Tar Heel destinations. He acquired most of his via eBay or collector sites on the Internet.
Unlike the stickers you see these days the faux-European white ovals holding letters abbreviating a city the classic ones looked far from generic: These are visually dramatic and colorful graphics. Their whole cartoon-simple point was to attract attention to the fact that you indeed had visited places like Santa Claus Land, Linville Falls, Ocracoke Island or White Lake.
While Powell may have been to such places, he confesses to never having had such decals on his cars.
Its about a different kind of tourism than there is now, he says of their appeal. Theyre about North Carolina and how its tourist attractions saw themselves and wanted to be seen around the country.
They speak of a time and place.
Lew Powell posts regularly at North Carolina Miscellany: www.lib.unc.edu/blogs/ncm