South for more than 18 years following leads to pri-
have loved it
had saved a
item for us
200 years ago.
It~ our duty
vate treasures, in many cases one step ahead of the
Laura Baxley, the assistant keeper of the gallery,
said 99 percent of the 17,500 items on display and
kept in the gallery's storage area have been donated to
UNC The gallery doesn't have a budget for acquisi-
tions, so to grow and expand it continues to depend
on what friends of the University find when they
clean out their closets. Fortunately, a typical alumnus'
closet tends to hold a lot more than ghosts.
"Family things have been preserved for generation
to generation. That's a characteristic of Southerners,"
said William S. Powell ' 40, emeritus history professor
and former curator of the
North Carolina Collection.
It's those qualities - a ten-
dency to save everything and a
willingness to share pieces of
family history with the Univer-
sity - that created the need for
the gallery in the first place. It's
also what made the collection
something that can only be
described as eclectic.
Building a showcase
In November 1986, UNC
hired Fulghum away from the
N.C Museum of History to
become the keeper of a collec-
tion that had no home outside
the storage warehouse. He
looked at 6,900 square feet of
unoccupied space in Wilson,
linoleum-floored and battle-scarred by years of use as
UNC's main reading room, and asked N.C Collec-
tion Curator H.G.Jones,"What do you want me to
do with this?"
"Build a gallery," Jones responded.
It would be three more years before the gallery
opened to the public, as Fulghmn sorted and sifred
through the library's holdings and installed displays and
exhibition space, such as the gallery's three period
rooms. By 2000, more than 12,000 visitors a year were
making their way up Wilson's stately front steps and
poking their heads around the corner into the gallery.
Of the more than 9,000 items Fulghum found
tucked away in the North Carolina Collection, the
Southern Historical Collection and elsewhere in the
library, only 150 had been documented. "This was
not a situation of intentional neglect; there just was
no one on the NCC's staff or in the library to over-
see items that fell outside the definition oftraditional
library materials," Fulghum said. Over the years, many
of the objects had been damaged from being moved
from library to library and from not being properly
stored. They were boxed up, shoved aside, forgotten
- even items as rare as Napoleon's death mask.
Now one of the prizes of the gallery's collection,
the death mask is the ideal illustration of why Jones
had pushed so hard for space and a staff to showcase
and care for UNC's artifacts. When Napoleon died
on St. Helena from what is now believed to be
arsenic poisoning, British doctors conducting the
autopsy made a mold of the dead emperor's face. This
then-routine act was intended to prove that there
wasn't a case of mistaken identity. Napoleon's personal
physician, Dr. Francesco Antommarchi, asked the
British doctors ifhe could make
a plaster cast ofthe original and
used his cast to make a number
of copies, most of which haven't
In the 1830s,Antommarchi
traveled to America and left one
mask in the hands of a New
Orleans doctor, Edwin B. Smith.
Antommarchi then headed to
Cuba. It is possible he intended
to retrieve the mask upon his
return, but the ship went down
and Antorrunarchi never canle
back. The mask was passed along
the Smith fanlily ranks until it
ended up with Capt. Francis T.
Bryan, UNC class of 1842, of St.
Louis, whose wife was Smith's
niece by marriage. Bryan's elderly
mother was living with them.
"The story is, the mother got
sick of Napoleon lying around the house and doing
nothing," Fulghum said. "She said, 'You've got to get
rid of this.'''
Bryan deemed the mask too important to throw
away, so he donated it to the University. It was chipped
in 1907 when a housekeeper turned it over to dust it,
and shortly thereafter it was transferred to the library.
"Periodically it was put on display, but mostly it was
just kept behind the scenes and forgotten," Fulghum
said. "I got it as good as old, as they say."
Some items are so strange that the gallery staff
hasn't been able to identify what they are at all. Peri-
odically, Baxley said, such things are put on display in
the hope that someone passing through the gallery
can provide a clue as to their purpose.
Others, such as packs of Winston cigarettes
donated by a former R.J. Reynolds employee as part
of a 300-item collection of tobacco ephemera or
Carolina collectibles that eventually might illuminate
school spirit, are unusual primarily because they are