From our newspaper archives:
50 years ago: The Oct. 7, 1971, edition of The AJT featured an article entitled “I Will Lift up Mine Eyes Unto the Hills.” Two mountaineers gaze with quiet awe on the magnificence of the reposing Grandfather Mountain amid the glory of October. The leaf color is just beginning with a flagrant swamp showing crimson here and there... The wildflowers are at their peak; with the blues of the Fringed Gentian, purple Aster and Lobelia mingled with Goldenrod, Sneezewood, Gerardia, Ague Weed, and Swamp Thistle. Gradually the transformation comes upon us: Poplar and Buckeye and Maple glowing golden on the hillside, vying with the flame of Sumac, Sugar Trees and the russet Red Oak. Each year it is new. A native may live here to be 100, yet each October he will be found glazing at the splendor until the last leaf falls, revelling in the sapphire blue of the sky, a fitting backdrop for the leaves — maybe going squirrel hunting or bear hurting in the Linville Gorge in the chill of morning that gives way to hot bright days and early nightfall... Small wonder that thousands of tourists flock to Avery County in October to ascend the higher mountain for a more spectacular view, to ride the chair lifts and “ooh” and “ahh” appreciatively as the natives grin in nonchalant manner as if they were so accustomed to the wealth of color. Just let one leave home, he will always return in October when nostalgia is pulling at his heart strings, bringing forth memories of cold apple cider — a hound dog baying a coon on a frosty night, and the beauty of the hills — always the beauty of the hills.
40 years ago: The Oct. 15, 1981, edition of The AJT featured an article entitled “Celebrating 25th Anniversary.” On Saturday, Oct. 3, Bob and Sarah Ann Aldridge celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. A reception at their home was enjoyed by over 60 of their family, friends and out-of-town guests. Music was performed by some friends from Cherryville, NC. and anyone wanted to join in. We were treated to some buck dancing and the “hambone” by Bob, some of his family and a few others. Many lovely gifts and phone calls were received and appreciated. May God bless Bob and Sarah Ann and may they always be together as one.
30 years ago: The Oct. 3, 1991, edition of The AJT featured the article “Now and Then.” Where are all the woolly worms this year? They are probably in training for the 14th Annual Woolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk. No respectable woolly worm would want to put his repetition on the line without being in shape for the most important worm sports event in the country. The poster of the Oct. 7, 1978, Woolly Worm Festival takes us back to the beginning of the event. Articles from locally read newspapers give us additional information on the unusual autumn attraction. The Asheville Citizen on Oct. 5, 1978, carried an article on page one announcing the event. The festival was scheduled to be held at the Banner Elk Elementary School on October 7, 1978, beginning at noon. It stated the Chairman Jimmy Morton said the celebration was conceived as an effort to honor the legendary prognosticator, the Woolly Worm. The Johnson City Press Chronicle on Oct. 10, 1978, reported the outcome of the Festival. The paper stated Jimmy Morton was the founder and organizer of the Woolly Worm Association. Within four months, 50 people had joined the organization and things looked favorable for an annual affair.
This article also include a front-page story describing the weather on the day of the event. Strong winds and overcast sky made for an unseasonably cool autumn day. An accompanying picture shows those in attendance wearing winter coats and hats. The article goes on to state that several worms appeared to be frostbitten, others were so cold they fell from the string. Through it all, the first festival was a success with 75 worms entering the races. Owners, finders and trainers were encouraged by the cheering section. The Chronicle names the winner as “Brown Sugar,” trained by Robin Hitchcock. He crawled away with the honors winning the prize of $100. A team of experts, Ed Presnell of Banner Elk and Sandra Glover of ASU, (who had studied the woolly worm for several years) forecasted a mild winter. The prediction was determined by reading the woolbands of brown and black on the official forecaster.
Proceeds from the festival went to the Banner Elk Elementary School paving project, to the Avery Rescue Squad, the Banner Elk Volunteer Fire Dept. and the United Way. William Lafferty, treasurer of the original organizers of the Festival and LMC Library, furnished information on this historical event. The Woolly Worm Festival is here to stay!
20 years ago: The Oct. 4, 2001, edition of The AJT featured an article “Vikings earn first win for Homecoming.” The Avery Football team played their best football of the year on Homecoming night. The Viking earned their first victory of the year with a 28-21 decision over Mountain Heritage. Avery exploded for 393 yards of total offense and only turned the ball over once.
The Vikings dominated the Cougars throughout the first quarter, scoring two touchdowns and keeping the Cougar off the scoreboard. Avery scored on their first two offensive possessions. The first scoring drive was set up by an outstanding punt return by Calvin Giles. Giles returned the punt 41 yards to give the Vikings great field position on the Cougar 29-yard line. Six plays later, quarterback David Burleson ran the ball around the right end for a 10-yard touchdown. The extra point was good, making it a 7-0 Viking lead. The Vikings’ second scoring drive began on the Mountain Heritage 46-yard line. Clint Manuel did most of the damage on the drive, posting runs of 29 and 19 yards, the latter went for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, making the score 13-0. If Avery dominated the first quarter, the Cougars controlled the second quarter. Mountain Heritage scored two touchdowns in the quarter and shut down the Viking offense. The Cougars first touchdown was the result of an 80-yard drive.