Editor’s note: This article features news and photos from past editions of the Watauga Democrat.
Sept. 1 and Sept. 8, 1955
“Appalachian State Teachers College will welcome her new president on Thursday, September 1, when Dr. William H. Plemmons of Chapel Hill comes to the campus to take office as the third president in Appalachian’s history,” the Watauga Democrat reported in the Sept. 1, 1955, issue.
“In June of this year, Dr. B.B. Dougherty, founder of the institution and its president for fifty-six years, requested that he be retired,” the newspaper reported. “The board of trustees, in honoring his request, elected Dr. J.D. Rankin, who had been dean of the college for thirty-five years, to be the interim president.”
“Chicago Chemist Likely Killed at Blowing Rock; Milwaukee Suspects Held in Texas, New Mexico” read the front-page headline of the Sept. 8, 1955, Watauga Democrat, detailing the High Country’s link to a crime spanning multiple states.
“The decomposed body of a Chicago chemist found Friday in Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, started an investigation which indicates Lewis A. Finn, 72, was killed near Blowing Rock,” the article began. “FBI sources disclosed evidence that the crime was committed in Watauga County ... the suspects, Leonard La Fond, 20, and Jo Anne Severson, 18, both of Milwaukee, told FBI agents where the body could be found.”
But at the time, the FBI had not disclosed what evidence it had that the killing had occurred in Blowing Rock.
Finn had been missing since late July, when he left his brother’s home in West Palm Beach, Fla., to visit another brother at Yuma, Ariz.
“La Fond admitted when he was arrested at Truth-or-Consequences, New Mexico, on August 10, that he had sold Finn’s car at El Paso, Texas, on August 8,” the article stated. “When authorities found the car at El Paso it still contained all Finn’s fishing tackle and photographic equipment except a camera and a bedroll.”
A May 1, 1956, article in the The Gaffney Ledger in Gaffney, S.C., details the resolution of the case, reporting that the suspects pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Watauga County Superior Court and were sentenced to life in prison.
The Ledger described the crime as a fatal stabbing on July 28 in a “roadside park” near Blowing Rock. “The defendants had admitted killing Finn. The statement said that Finn gave them a ride as they were hitchhiking in Florida.”
Sept. 4, 1975
Artist Alan Tompkins insisted that Daniel Boone never wore coonskin caps, instead depicting the pioneer in a brimmed hat in the mural he was commissioned to paint on the east wall of the Boone Post Office.
“It was 1939 when Tompkins was commissioned through a fine arts competition of the Federal Works Administration to do the mural for the local post office, one of 48 commissioned in what was then the 48 states of the U.S.,” an article in the Sept. 4, 1975, Watauga Democrat stated. “He spent approximately a year researching the character of Boone for his 11 feet by almost 4 feet mural.”
“(Exactly how many of the murals are still in existence is unknown, according to Boone Postmaster Earl Norris, but it is known that some have been destroyed),” the article added.
The painting was completed in July 1940 “and drew rave reviews from all,” according to the newspaper, but since then, Norris said, “It’s amazing how many people have never noticed it. It’s a pity really because it’s a fine work.
“I doubt a post office since that period has ever had a mural like this, and I wouldn’t expect there to be one like it again.”
The town of Boone purchased the historic downtown post office building in 2009, and the mural was restored in 2015.
In the same issue, coverage of the United States Hang Gliding Championships at Grandfather Mountain included Hugh Morton’s account of hang-glider pilot Burke Ewing of San Diego, Calif., and his co-pilot, Curtis — a 9-year-old German Shepherd.
“Nearly three years ago, when Ewing was first learning to hang glide, he leaped in his glider off a cliff similar to those on Grandfather Mountain, and faithful Curtis leaped off the cliff behind him, but without the benefit of a glider,” the article recounted. “Curtis was critically injured.”
“After extensive surgery, Curtis recovered, and Burke Ewing decided to construct a harness that would permit taking the 65-pound dog on hang glider flights. Today Curtis has hundreds of hours of hang glider flying time in his log book.”
“Curtis is so enthusiastic about flying that he has to be restrained when gliders take off without him,” Morton wrote.
Sept. 15 and Sept. 18, 1995
Town of Boone and App State officials met in September 1995 to discuss the university’s plans for four new buildings and a planned realignment of Rivers Street, the Watauga Democrat reported.
“This explosion of construction in no way represents an explosion of population at the university,” said Jane Helm, then the vice chancellor for business affairs. “(But) I can tell you, the construction is going to be a major inconvenience.”
The two-year construction plan included a new academic support building, science building and steam plant.
“ASU also plans to rework its main entrance by removing the baseball field and uncovering a buried stream there to create an entrance park with ponds,” the article stated. “It will also be building a new, four-lane Rivers Street to intersect Blowing Rock Road near Klondike Cafe and close the old section of the street to make room for its biggest new building: the Convocation Center.”
The newspaper also reported on a protest by Watauga High School students against a new dress code.
“A dress code rally at Watauga High School Friday morning may have only gathered about 200 students, but organizers of the protest say they have many more signatures on a petition that decries the newly mandated rules,” the newspaper reported on Sept. 18, 1995.