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Interview with Janet Seapker, June 21, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Janet Seapker, June 21, 2007
June 21, 2007
Interview with Janet Seapker, former director of the Cape Fear Museum and noted preservationist.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Seapker, Janet Interviewer: Jones, Carroll / Malpass, Chris Date of Interview: 6/21/2007 Series: SENC Notables Length 120minutes

Jones: Today is June the 21st, 2007. I'm Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass, for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Program. Our interview guest this morning is Janet Seapker. Janet is a former director of the Cape Fear Museum. She has been on several advisory boards across the state and has been given numerous accolades for her work in historic preservation and brining the past forward to the now. She is married to Ed Turberg, noted architectural historian and the last word on the building and buildings of Wilmington. Good morning, Janet.

Seapker: Hi, Carroll.

Jones: Thanks for coming to see us this morning. Your background is such I can't really begin to bring up all the accomplishments and the things you've been involved in. So I think we better just start from an easy spot with where you're from, what were your interests growing up, were you always in this genre and what brought you to Wilmington.

Seapker: I was born and reared in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I learned there was a warmer climate at some point in my early career and just hounded my parents to move and they said "No, Honey. When you're grown, you can move anywhere you want." So when I was grown up, I moved south as fast as I could.

Jones: Where did you move to first?

Seapker: First I moved to Raleigh in 1971. I stayed there until August of '78 when I came to Wilmington as Director of what became Cape Fear Museum. In my childhood years, I just adored history and went to Williamsburg when I was 8 and I never got over it. The interesting thing I think is how potent the olfactory sense is. I remember smelling what turned out to be boxwood in Williamsburg and as a teenager, I volunteered at a historic site not too far from our home and I would arrive before the staff would arrive because a neighbor would deposit me on his way to work. I'd sit in the garden and wait for the staff to get there and I could smell the boxwood.

Jones: And this was in Pennsylvania?

Seapker: Mm-hmm. And it just-- That was the thing that really clinched it I guess.

Jones: So Williamsburg and the boxwood--

Seapker: And old economy in Pennsylvania. The wonderful thing about that experience was that the curator was new. He arrived in March and I arrived in June and he had a typical Pennsylvania State staff of political appointees. It was horrible. He was so glad to have somebody with some reasonable intelligence who would do what he asked them to do and trained them to do that he gave me all kinds of interesting tasks. So I got into the museum racket fairly early on.

Jones: Were your parents responsible in this interest of yours?

Seapker: No, I just fell into it. They were obviously who took me to Williamsburg and sort of promoted it in that fashion.

Jones: Uh-huh. But a sense of history and that sort of thing?

Seapker: My father probably had more of a sense of history than my mother did. Anyway, I'd gotten advice from my volunteer supervisor, Dan Rival, about where to go to school and what to study and that helped considerably. So I wound up taking my Bachelor's at University of Pittsburg and going to Cooperstown's graduate program for my Master's and I do not have a Master's in baseball, contrary to popular opinion. I have a Master's in Museum Studies.

Jones: I've not heard the one about baseball.

Seapker: The minute you say Cooperstown, people think baseball.

Jones: Oh, the Hall of Fame. My son thinks it's a really neat place. It's interesting.

Seapker: It is.

Jones: So you left Pennsylvania and you came to Raleigh. And in Raleigh you did what?

Seapker: In Raleigh, I was hired as a survey specialist for the inventory of historic buildings. That was generated by the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and that provided huge influxes of federal money into the states to conduct inventories of all the counties and record the historic buildings inside and out. And in those days, the state staff did the inventories. Now, they contract them out which isn't nearly as much fun for the state staff but it is for those of us who get contracted. So we had divided the state into regions. I had the 22 coastal counties so I was known as the Coastal Crusader or the Beach Bitch depending on my attitude at the moment.

Jones: Not too bad.

Seapker: Of course, that's how I got to know Wilmington, was coming down here for that inventory.

Jones: Tell us about Wilmington about at that time.

Seapker: Oh, my.

Jones: This was the '70s.

Seapker: Mm-hmm, the early '70s. Wilmington was really THE happening place when it came to the preservation movement. Having contact with the other coastal counties, I was very aware of their lack of initiative. I also was involved at one time in grants administration which required us to provide a match, not us to provide but for the local community to provide a match to the federal and state funds. You would annually ask the usual grant recipients how much do you need, how much can you spend and how much can you match. And within most of the communities, the estimates were very, very low and you'd ask Wilmington those questions, and they were just sky high and they always could match. When I was a grants administrator, I always looked upon Wilmington as the place to dump money.

Jones: Why do you suppose that was true?

Seapker: I think it was the people here, the Thomas Wrights, the Jimmy Carrs, the Charles Grahams, the R.B. Asburys, who did not want to see their city just annihilated by urban renewal and by suburban flight. An they were committed to keeping as much of the urban fabric as they possibly could. So they just got out and pounded the pavement. Wilmington's historic district was one of the first in the state. Actually it was constituted illegally for a time because in North Carolina, communities could only do what the state mandates or tells them they can do and Wilmington was not among those who was allowed to have a historic district in the early years. They started one in 1966 anyway and didn't look back. It was one of the early organizations, Historic Wilmington Foundation was one of the very early organizations specifically established to reclaim or salvage properties and they were a very aggressive group. At any rate, with federal funds particularly, there was a deadline for expenditures or for encumbering those funds and if one community didn't meet their deadline, I had the authority to take that money away and put it someplace where it could be matched and spent. I constantly relied upon Wilmington to meet those needs of mine to get that money spent.

Jones: Where-- now I'm going to ask you some questions that I've heard the answer to. But you can hear different topics say different things. Where was the beginning of this historic preservation work? Either concentrate on those buildings on Water Street, Front Street, churches, old houses, saving buildings. I have heard so many stories about a balustrade or a porch that has been sold to somebody in Charleston, a stairwell has been sold to somebody else. Were these places salvageable, did the people say "No, we want to keep it here." What was the beginning of the restoration?

Seapker: One of the beginnings was that we had a building code inspector who was absolutely lethal when it came to historic buildings. He hated them. He mandated that all of the cast iron balconies on buildings be removed and that seemed to be the sort of initiative for building materials being sold out of town. Of course, I guess if you go way back, the Colonial Dames purchasing the Berwin Wright House in the '30s, I believe, was probably one of the earliest.

Jones: They preserved it and it's usable.

Seapker: And then with all this suburban flight that took place after World War II, finally the Historic Wilmington Foundation broke off from the Historical Society. It wasn't a break off. It was actually the Historical Society basically commissioned the Historic Wilmington Foundation to be begun and I believe contributed money to its establishment. And once that happened, they created a membership organization and they decided to focus on purchasing one property in the residential and that was the Wright Murphy House on Second Street, around the corner from the-- included in the Children's Museum Complex now. It had this horrible bathroom that was sort of wart the front of it above the front porch right in the center bay and it was structurally sound but it just looked bad. And people have very little creativity when it comes to seeing a good building that's in not even bad shape, just sort of semi-bad shape. It needs paint basically. So they had no creativity in being able to envision what the building could be. So the Historic Wilmington Foundation came in and did sufficient renovations that the beauty of the house showed and was purchased. They always sold things with preservation covenants that would allow the Historic Foundation the right of first refusal upon the building being sold and give it some--

Jones: May I interrupt you? Were these houses already plaqued or did that come later?

Seapker: The plaque program started in 1966 with the Foundation so it was one of their early projects.

Jones: And one other question in this timeline. After the coastline moved out and everyone was going, "Oh, oh, oh, we're going to lose, we're going to sink into the river. Things are bad." Do you suppose the moving coastline spurred on an initiative to build up what has become one of Wilmington's calling cards, that it is a historic district?

Seapker: I'm sure that certainly had something to do with it. The railroad leaving I think was largely responsible for the battleships coming. It was largely responsible for what became Cape Fear Museum moving from the courthouse to the old police station and then ultimately to Market Street. It brought on urban renewal, that awful, horrible thing. So I think it had a significant impact. Of course, the Committee of 100 also was out beating the bushes for new industry.

Jones: Okay, now that we got that settled. You cleared up how bits and pieces of buildings were sold out of the area and that was unfortunate that that had to happen. Where did they get that guy to begin with?

Seapker: He was home brewed.

Jones: At this time, were you living here in Wilmington?

Seapker: No. I lived in Raleigh until 1975, when I married. I had no responsibilities per se in Raleigh.

Jones: Did you meet Ed in Raleigh?

Seapker: I did.

Jones: Was he also involved?

Seapker: Yes.

Jones: The architectural and the this.

Seapker: When we would described our jobs, I would say that I would find the buildings and he'd restore them.

Jones: That was a pretty good combination. That worked.

Seapker: Obviously he didn't restore everything I found but he was with the restoration branch so that was the difference.

Jones: Go ahead. You're fascinating.

Seapker: The Foundation found it necessary to continue this pattern of taking buildings and redoing them.

Jones: Can you tell us how did they chose the buildings? Were they have anything to do with what they originally meant to be, or age, or perhaps those that would take less money in the beginning?

Seapker: Probably a whole range of things, things that would be available, things that were condemned. I know R.B. Asbury would run around town and if he saw a pink condemnation notice on a building, he'd yank it off and take it Tom Wright and say "We need to buy this building, Tom."

Jones: Were you going to break in and do any rehabbing?

Seapker: No, there were no benefits for properties, for instance like the Latimer House, Zebulon Latimer House, which was the Historical Society's headquarters and in those days, the Dereset House [ph?] which was owned by the Historic Foundation, federal and state grant monies would be allocated for the work and there was always a match included but they certainly benefitted from those public funds. But that was the exception rather than the rule. Actually, private properties could have received grant funds. It was just a matter that there was so much need that sort of the private homeowner was the last on the list.

Jones: That's sort of understandable. I know having done a lot of volunteering in old town Alexandria, Virginia, when one of those parts of certain areas were sold, there were covenants galore. And it became very popular for the young couples upwardly moving to buy one, but they had to they could get loans, many of them because they had to redo things. That special government funded loans that were lower interest rates to redo and preserve the residences they live in, but it was mandated that they only could do it within a certain perimeter, that they could not go out put in modern skylights and things like that. That became quite a boom, but what it did was take block after block from King Street towards the river and these people came in and they did the job the city couldn't afford to do. So everybody, it was a win-win thing.

Seapker: In our case, the plaques on buildings had nothing to do with restrictive covenants. It's purely a voluntary situation where a homeowner or a property owner wants to recognize the value of the building. More often than not, the new plaques were put on buildings that the owners were going to be putting up for sale because they feel it adds an appreciable value to the property. So there's no worth. There's no historic motive behind this. It's purely monetary.

Jones: Well okay, so anyway, when you were doing this and in Raleigh, were you coming down here all the time?

Seapker: Mm-hmm.

Jones: This was before I-40 and was a one-lane road.

Seapker: 421.

Jones: It went though every town with their one cop car waiting to arrest everybody. I know that for a fact.

Seapker: I used to be able to make it between Raleigh and Wilmington in two and a half hours on 421.

Jones: It still takes that.

Seapker: I can do it in two now. My only speeding ticket I got in Lenore County when I was going back to Raleigh from Newbern. I've never cared for Lenore County since then.

Jones: I can understand that. So when did you decide to move to-- how did you move to Wilmington? That was a joint effort at this point, I'm sure.

Seapker: I had a boss that I simply could not abide. He was amoral and would set staff up for failure. It was just pathetic. I'd be sent to meetings and not be told what my role was to be and then people were expecting buckets of money and there was no such thing available. So I finally just got tired of coming home and raging for two hours before I could cook supper and decided that maybe it was time to seek something else. We came down for Mayfair, which was the Historic Wilmington Foundation's National Preservation Week then, sort of public celebration that was held in the backyard of Governor Dudley mansion, or the GovDud as we are fond of saying. It was a fun event that we always enjoyed so we would come down.

Jones: And these were people that would come from all over?

Seapker: It was mainly a local event but we had been several times. We'd gone to dinner at Charles and Jean Graham's house and Charles said something about "Did you know that the museum job is open?" I said "What museum job?"

Jones: Where was the museum located?

Seapker: It was in the armory on Market Street. I said "No, I hadn't know that," so the next day at Mayfair, he set me up with Helen Willets, who was then the Chairman of the Board and I had not known her before. So we had a conversation and she told me to call the personnel office that next Monday, which I did and the personnel director said "Well, application's closed on Friday and you'll have to get that in to me by Friday." I said that's no problem, so he sent me the application. I completed it, included it with my resume and sent it in and was one of the finalists. I thought it was amusing that the staff--

Jones: Of how many, three?

Seapker: The principal staff, there was a Director, a Historian Registrar, an Educator, an Exhibit Designer, and I'm missing somebody. At any rate, they were all women and the county manager wanted to know from the staff "Do you think you can work for a woman?" (laughs) The Exhibit Designer, Rhonda Riter Tyson said "I can work for anybody just providing they're capable and trained in the program." So that was enough for him and he made me an offer. So I came down here in September of 1978 and Ed stayed in Raleigh long enough to sell the house and then we moved into a place on Lunds Street which was an experience. We lived next door to the legendary Mrs. Cumber. Have you heard about Mrs. Cumber?

Jones: Oh, yes.

Seapker: Mrs. Cumber is most famous for having her husband killed during the Wilmington Ten. He was going to check on one of their rental properties and he violated the curfew. I don't know that it's ever been proven who shot him, whether it was the law enforcement officials or the folks involved in the Wilmington Ten. At any rate, he was shot and killed and Mrs. Cumber had him entombed in his casket, casket brought to the house-- this is the big white house, the Beery House on Second and Lund-- propped him up in the window, floor-to-ceiling window with a spotlight on him, where he lay in state for awhile. And then couldn't get her son out of the county jail so they put him in the back of a pickup truck and hauled him out there and kind of jostled around on the whole trip out. They opened the casket for his son to see and she was standing out there saying "Son, son! See what they done to your Daddy." Then she proceeded to faint across the hood of her Cadillac.

Jones: She's that kind of person.

Seapker: Oh, yeah. This is a woman who takes no prisoners. She ran basically a boarding house for men. There were no women allowed in, just men, and her daughter participated in this boarding house routine so we had some interesting neighbors. She also kept chickens, which I hadn't figured out until oh, maybe November of '78. Ed was still commuting back and forth on the weekends and I came in the house and said "Ed, do you know we have chickens next door?" Well that spring, she got 100 biddies supposedly but they were not all biddies. Some of them were roosters.

Jones: You did not need an alarm clock.

Seapker: But had no role model. They didn't know how to crow and they'd kind of [makes screeching noise]. I'd go out and say "Come on now, guys. [crows] You got that?" No, they didn't it.

Jones: You could never have done that in Pennsylvania.

Seapker: (laughs) Probably not. I was having a conversation with Mrs. Cumber across the fence and I said something about "Do you use the chickens for eggs?" She said "Oh, well, we eat them, too." I said "Oh, how can you kill something that you raised like that?" She said "Honey, chickens is chickens."

Jones: How could you stand to move away from her?

Seapker: She actually went back to Tabor City and then her daughter maintained the place. For a while, there was a sign, these sort of real estate signs, that said "The Historic House for Retired Gentlemen" which was an overstatement to be sure. But when Mrs. Cumber came back, that sign went. She would not have that sign posted in front of her house.

Jones: I bet you had a lot of callers just to see what was going on. Did you own the house?

Seapker: No, we rented from Margaret and Tommy Thompson.

Jones: Then you decided to stay here and bought a house.

Seapker: Well, actually, Margaret decided she was going to move into our house and abandon her great big Kenan House on Lund Street on the next block down. So with that threat, we decided we needed to look for a place that would accommodate both our residence and Ed's office so we chose a house on 15th Street, which has served that purpose.

Jones: What was the museum like the late '70s?

Seapker: 1978.

Jones: I remember we used to come down to bring the children to Wrightsville Beach. And on two different occasions we decided to go see the museum. One time it was closed. On time, I guess there was a special exhibit, if I remember; it was really aimed for children basically. And I think at that time there was a lot of talk, in this town there was a lot of talk about building and moving. In this town there's always talk about building and moving. So when did that really take place? When were you really able to expand?

Seapker: The proviso that I put forth: if you hire me, my intention is to convert this to a museum that has direct relationship to this community. In those days, anybody who had anything who wanted to get rid of it gave it to the museum. We had Chinese stuff. We had Tibetan stuff. We had African stuff. You name it, we had it. A really, really ratty natural history mounted specimen collection.

Jones: Which is what you had.

Seapker: Exactly. So they had no collection policy. There was no basis by which they could turn something down. So one of the first things I did, A) said if that's what you want, that's what I intend to do here. If you don't want that, don't hire me. And we had a second meeting with the Board just to make sure that they understood that was my intention. So we started off by writing a Statement of Purpose basically to collect and interpret the lower Cape Fear region. Then we wrote a collection policy that took off from that Statement of Purpose. Then that defined the museum and we were able to dig session materials and shift some of that international culture material to other museums where it fit in rather than keeping it in our closets. Then I suppose the real critical, there were two critical stages. One was when the Blockade Runner Museum at Carolina Beach came up for sale. I think it was $150,000 and another $50,000 for something that I can't remember. But at any rate, the community was really, really, really invested in that museum. They loved that museum and to think that it was going to be split up-- I mean there were Civil War collectors all over Creation who were jockeying for this diorama and I can't imagine having the Battle of Fort Fisher in your house or the Wilmington Waterfront model in your house. But anyway, there were collectors who were eager to have this material and the community was loathed to allow that to happen. So we had a-- what was it called?-- foundation, New Hanover County Museum Foundation which was composed in the early days of five individuals who met for tea in somebody's house three afternoons a year and decided who would give what amount of money for what project and it was fairly low key. So we decided that that was one of the organizations that had to evolve and we converted it into what became the Museum Associates, a membership group. Even before the membership group, they took on the Blockade Runner challenge. They had never really raised a dime in their lives and it was really quite an amazing feat. Those board members were as surprised as anybody that they were going to raise $200,000 to save the Blockade Runner collection.

Jones: This told you that people really wanted this.

Seapker: So then through a federal grant, we were able to hire the services of a museum master planner, Vernon Johnson out of Boston. In those days, there were very few people who actually specialized in museum planning and design.

Jones: I was just going to say what an interesting job and how specialized.

Seapker: Today, there are a lot more of these people who have experience in museum planning and design but in those days, Johnson was about it and he was excellent.

Jones: Let me ask you something and you can define for those of us, including our audience here that may not know. By being a museum designer, that doesn't necessarily restrict you to just buildings does it? It can be an acreage or a natural type of-- for example I'm thinking of down in Charleston, Patriot Point, where they have a collection of many things where they did have a company come and design.

Seapker: You've actually got two sort of disciplines and Johnson specialized in the architectural discipline. But yes, he would do those kinds of gross plans. Then you have exhibit designers who are much more specialized and focus on the exhibit components and design.

Jones: Do they work side by side?

Seapker: They should. But Johnson provided us the master plan from which when the commissioners finally agreed to allow us to float a bond referendum or put a bond referendum before the public, we had the stats. We knew how many square feet we were going for. We could then tote that out in terms of what it was going to cost. So we had the roadmap. If we had not had that master plan when the commissioners said "Yes, you can do a bond referendum," we would have been in big trouble. But fortunately, we had that plan so we were able to utilize that. We also--

Jones: Did you, as director, work closely, you must have had a plan of your own, with your committee, did you work with these people? Were you able to--

Seapker: The designer? Oh, yes. It was very much of a cooperative effort and Johnson was a peach to work with. He was just superb. I've recommended him to many folks.

Jones: Janet, at that time, when all of a sudden some growth began. And you had a small gourd and everybody agreed you were going to expand. Center more on South Eastern North Carolina. What type of-- since the county was probably coming out of reeling from losing jobs and so forth how did they go about asking for money? Did they go to the usual suspects, did they go to the corporations, did they go to the man on the street, did you sell a brick? Things like this.

Seapker: Of course, the county funded the museum. I think when I came in '78, the budget was like $81,000 and when I left in 2000, it was nearing $2 million.

Jones: Now this budget was for everything right, including salaries?

Seapker: Yes. The county funded the operation. The idea was to see if the public would float the bond referendum.

Jones: This was another bond coming on top of the years trying to get through the bond for a new hospital.

Seapker: Yes.

Jones: So all of a sudden you had a lot of--

Seapker: But that bond passed in '63 I think.

Jones: That bond passed later than that. They ran it through three times.

Seapker: They opened in '67, right?

Jones: That was the initial but they weren't through.

Seapker: No, no. We as a staff and a board had no experience with politics, which of course being a bond referendum is politics. So somebody smartly suggested that we hire some political counsel, which we did. We hired independent opinion and research, the Karen Gatovy [ph?] and Sue Bullocks outfit which was a very smart thing to do.

Jones: Yes it was.

Seapker: They did an initial investigation to see if the bond might pass and they said yes, they thought it would. So then the thing was to get the commissioners to approve the bond referendum and they did. I didn't know until way later after the referendum passed that they only put it before the electorate because they thought it was going to fail.

Jones: Aren't they smart?

Seapker: I was real thrilled about that one. At any rate, I'm glad I didn't vote at the time. So then they also helped us with various published materials, flyers that would go in newspapers, et cetera. They counseled us on how to conduct a telephone survey and it was very interesting because we had a huge crowd of volunteers who took over Southern Bell's phone bank the week before the bond referendum, maybe two weeks, and we started calling registered voters to identify those people who were positive about the referendum. You were not supposed to try to convince anybody. If they wanted more information, we had information we could send them. It was not to convince anybody, just to identify the positive people.

Jones: Did you go precinct by precinct?

Seapker: I don't remember Carroll. We had Frank Block's voter registration list. These things just appeared. I had no idea. So we got to the point that we had identified the positive voters and then the day before the election, the job was for all of the volunteers to call those people who were positive and to remind them to please go to the polls and vote. Our referendum won by 58%, which we were thrilled about. They had a bond referendum on Wrightsville Beach's ballot for a community center and library. They had the same political advice we had. They didn't follow it, we did. Ours won, theirs failed so we were incredibly thankful that we'd had that advice.

Jones: With that, did you have a sudden surge of people coming forth and saying "I want to help" or "I have items for you" or whatever.

Seapker: Yes.

Jones: And your board grew.

Seapker: Well, it didn't really grow. The membership of the associates grew and we, by that time, had them at least partially staffed. So it was a very invigorating period because you knew you had $4.1 million to expand and renovate the building and the wonders that that could bring were just endless. That allowed us to hire an exhibit designer, Ralph Applebaum, who was to the exhibit world what Vern Johnson was to the museum architecture world. It was so interesting. We interviewed a fair number of designers and he had the most, I don't know, kind of intimate touch. He really wanted this museum to be reflective of this community and special and he loves telling the stories of whatever the museum happens to be dedicated to. The one that he really had problems with, while he was doing our design, he was working on the Holocaust Museum.

Jones: Have you been there?

Seapker: I can't go. I just simply can't go.

Jones: That is mind-boggling. It is scary sometimes but he must be a genius.

Seapker: Of course, he is Jewish so he would go to Europe and visit these concentration camps or the remnants of them and it must've just been absolutely horrible for him.

Jones: There's one section, this museum is huge and the lines to get in were prohibitive. You come upon one section you come upon very suddenly and it takes your breath away. They are cattle cars. It's dimly lit. You hear the sounds, and the smells, and the light, and talking. And you have a door. You put your head in and there's this dense smell and bodies piled up. In others, there were women and children crying. It takes your breath away. Absolutely. Obviously, that is genius.

Seapker: All the museums up until that point that he had done were celebrations of life so it was very difficult.

Jones: So this was close to his heart. Did you, I know you did. Could you tell us the names of some of these groups that you belonged to where you would get together at various places, several times a year, or once a year, whichever and visit other museums and compare notes. Take a little bit here and there. And actually, I think it was under your watch that Wilmington got to be one of the Big Boys. That's what I've got from looking at all your papers. So--

Seapker: I don't know.

Jones: Well don't be modest. The point is, tell us about these consortiums, or these groups provided from what you, from Pennsylvania, and then Raleigh, and coming down here and you're taking up a project that just absolutely took off. And can you talk about those towns, travelling around the state?

Seapker: There were a variety of organizations as you know and North Carolina Museums Council was sort of the initial one. That is composed of museum professionals and museums throughout the state. At that time, that organization met twice a year.

Jones: And you'd meet at different places each time?

Seapker: And there would be panels and tours, et cetera, and you always learned more in the bar after the sessions were over than you ever learned sitting in a panel discussion. At any rate, then there was Southeastern Museums Conference which I think was 14 states in the Southeast.

Jones: Now that might have been interesting. That's all interesting but I thinking maybe some things would overlap.

Seapker: You also had American Association of Museums which meets once a year, as does Southeastern Museums Conference. So those were all interesting and I participated at various levels.

Jones: Were you not Chairman of one?

Seapker: I was secretary and treasurer of the North Carolina Museums Council for six years and president for two years and president for two years. And I was on the board for the Southeastern Museums Conference.

Jones: You were president of which one?

Seapker: President of North Carolina Museums Council. Then we wound up what was a lengthy process of establishing the Grassroots Science Museums Collaborative and this was something that was begun-- I'm having trouble remembering when this first started. It took forever to get it going and funded. The intention was to get legislative funding contributed to various museums around the state who would provide science education outside of schools, not that they couldn't provide it to schools but it wasn't necessarily on the school campus. Initially I didn't think we qualified. I was invited to participate and in those days, that was before the expansion and we simply did not have the science, particularly in the natural history angle that I thought was required to participate, so I bowed out. And after the expansion, when this collaborative got back into gear, I said okay, now is the time. We should be a part of this. And it took me about three years to get the legislation to include us and I've lost track. There were just stupid things like somebody forgot to include us, one of the legislators. Thanks a lot! So now we have to twiddle our thumbs and wait another year.

Jones: Was Wilmington in the beginning thought of as the little stepsister?

Seapker: Some of the bigger museums, particularly from Durham and Greensboro, didn't really think of us as all. They were specifically science museums and we were history and science or history and natural history, so we were kind of the odd chick out. It wasn't so much location as it was just a bias against people who are heavy into history.

Jones: What was the population of Wilmington about this time?

Seapker: I haven't a clue.

Jones: The summer traffic was really starting to grow. When do you feel, you had a plan, when was your great expansion? You moved into a new building, that was completed when?

Seapker: That was completed and opened in January of '92.

Jones: We were blown away.

Seapker: I'm so glad you were.

Jones: My husband, born and raised here, walked in and he said "Is this Wilmington?"

Seapker: One of the other things that we did is we were getting ready to expend the bond referendum funds, was to change the name of the museum from New Hanover County-- It was New Hanover County Museum of the Lower Cape Fear. Could you ask for a longer title? The intention was to drop the New Hanover County and become the Museum of the Lower Cape Fear. In the meantime, the state opened a branch in Fayetteville, which they called Museum of the Cape Fear. Thanks a lot! I had some communication with their director. It wasn't very pleasant or polite on his end. So finally, we hooked up with a marketing class out here, Cameron School of Business and they did some studies about names and logos and it was kind of interesting. It was very interesting. They determined that there would not be sufficient confusion between Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville and Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington. So they recommended that we go ahead with Cape Fear Museum and I was pleased that happened, so our commissioners agreed to that.

Jones: I would never associate Cape Fear with Fayetteville. I associate with other things, but not Cape Fear. This became an important part of the city. Did this get easier for you at this time to have people to take part, join? To want to donate. Did you ask for donations?

Seapker: We did.

Jones: Did you get specific donations from, you don't have to mention who, people you felt might--

Seapker: Not so much people but the types of things, anything that had to do with this region was fair game.

Jones: Was this through a newsletter or one on one? Receptions?

Seapker: All of the above. Press releases. In those days, Jim Burns had his noontime television program on WECT. I mean there was no public relations stone left unturned. We scraped through them all and tried to keep the museum in the public eye at all times. In the summers, we'd run PSAs that would say "Rainy day at the beach? Don't let that spoil your vacation. Visit Cape Fear Museum."

Jones: Actually, that's when we took our kids. It was pouring rain the entire week we were down here. We came to the museum.

Seapker: Anything was fair game.

Jones: How long were you there?

Seapker: 22 years.

Jones: Why'd you retire?

Seapker: I had 30 years service between state and local government. Why not?

Jones: Did you pick the successor?

Seapker: I had nothing to do with my successor.

Jones: At that point you got to be big boys and do it somewhere else. What do you, it continues to grow, and we all hear, hopefully, add onto it. When it seems we don't' have money to do anything. Everybody wants something these days. What is your opinion of Wilmington then and now? What I'm getting at is the differences, the changes over the 30 years over people who moved here, participation, historical preservation, growth of industry and how it affects historical preservation. Add more to it, people getting involved, retirees. Oakdale, place for visitors to go take tours, rest, tour company. Tours for architectural purposes. Tell us about then and now. Do we still have a small town attitude?

Seapker: Yes and no.

Jones: More proprietary from the older families still want things done their own ways. They still control some things. Which I don't blame them.

Seapker: Yes, there certainly was some of that attitude. The thing that I think is misrepresented often about Wilmington is that it is this backwater and always has been. Well, not true. Wilmington has always been an outward looking. They don't really give a rip what happens in Raleigh and to their detriment many times, but their focus has always been other ports, Europe, the islands, et cetera. It's not been one of those insular communities and they've had a lot of influx over the years from various immigrant groups, the Germans in the 1850s, Jews from the earliest time right on up through now. So Wilmington really has never been that kind of insular community in my book. The intelligentsia were extremely generous with their wealth. I think of the Sprunts particularly. James Sprunt is one of my great heroes. I just adore that man, having of course never met him. He died way before I was born but I just admire him tremendously because of his generosity and philanthropy and just world view. I think he's a tremendous individual. Anyway, I think probably the leaving of the railroad and the coming of industry and opening of Wilmington as not just a tourist destination but a residential destination has certainly brought new influx of people and ideas. Some of them are good and some of them are bad. I get very annoyed at people who came here maybe in the '90s who claim that they are the saviors of Wilmington and I'm sitting around thinking uh-uh, I knew it when it was and it wasn't you who came and saved it. Believe me.

Jones: I have to agree with you there. I have some data that says, how accurate it is I can't tell, Wilmington has the highest number of retired Fortune 500 mid and upper level executives living here. Some of them may not live here 12 months out of the year. They own property, they pay taxes and they have been generous in giving off their time. The other thing that is effect, I noticed this, people have been able to retire earlier. This has become a destination spot not just weather, but golfing, boating, but the arts, the arts have grown dramatically. And they too, many of them, give their time to various things. What we have are the holding families losing control and they don't like that. What we have I find that this influx of people can assimilate themselves in some ways. I asked this question of Charlie Rivenbark not long ago said he was all for any kind of growth we had. He said "I came from nowhere but I do remember this. When I was going to school, I went to a two-room schoolhouse. If I got real sick, I had to go Raleigh." If he needed to go shopping, he had to go to Raleigh because there was no decent medical care here.

Seapker: Where did he grow up, Carroll?

Jones: Ask him. He and his brothers, they welcome all the improvements. I've heard a number of other families say they don't mind it. What they mind is people bastardizing certain things and they would prefer to keep it on a lower key. So it's interesting to hear your view which we haven't heard completely because I've got to end.

Seapker: When's Carroll going to be interviewed?

Jones: Never. But in any rate, in working with people today, as you do on a grand scale. How do you envision what's happening in where we're going? Do you like the direction we're going?

Seapker: What absolutely terrifies me is the value of land beyond any resource that's sitting on it and the beach, Wrightsville Beach especially, is probably the one that is suffering the most.

Jones: Let's stop here, take a break, and he's going to change tapes because I really want to get into this part of it.

[tape change]

Seapker: We were talking about the problem I have with the value of land; particularly Wrightsville Beach where in not very long a period of time, maybe five years, I don't know if we will have one old beach cottage left. They are all being replaced by these enormous mansions that are creating a canyon along Lumina Avenue. That just is very upsetting to have treasured the history of Wrightsville Beach as a getaway; summer getaway for residents of Wilmington. It's gotten to the point that residents of Wilmington can't afford to have a second house on Wrightsville Beach.

Jones: What do you think about Blockade Runner and their efforts to sell these one room condos?

Seapker: I guess if they can do it fine for them. But being in the tourism business to some extent, it is disappointing that-- and I guess they are going to lease some of these rooms, very much like Shell Island Resort does, for transient guests. But it is getting more and more difficult to find on the beach overnight accommodations for people because things are going condo and that limits the choices. From that standpoint, I am not thrilled about it.

Jones: Is it good business sense? What do you think Wrightsville's becoming?

Seapker: It must be good business sense because they wouldn't do it if it wasn't.

Jones: We talk beach renourishment, that's one thing.

Seapker: Of course we read the article in the paper this morning about the rising sea level. By 2080, we're not going to have a beach left. I guess enjoy it while we can.

Jones: I think you're right. That beach has been very special to people around here. The second oldest yacht club. People who own some houses are having problems paying the taxes.

Seapker: At least at Wrightsville Beach, there is a program that they've picked up from the state that owners from historic properties can apply for landmark status and that allows them to then apply to the municipality for 50% tax abatement of their property taxes. If you decide to tear the building down or modernize it severely, you will owe three or five years of back taxes. That is a pittance compared to--

Jones: A friend of ours who owns an old family place was built in the year 1800/1900, it needs some work and the owner says, "Oh, I can't afford to do it." So what.

Seapker: This is a program that is intended to provide some assistance.

Jones: For families to come down to the beach, people like ourselves, my husband who had a long history, it is becoming increasingly difficult. We would rent somebody else's condo. Ironically, this one place that we rent from a doctor who lived in Chicago and very seldom came here. He decided to sell it. We were given first right of refusal to buy it. We seriously considered it. But this happened to be the year when the tax laws changed for everybody stating that you could not decrease on taxes vacation property if you rented it over a certain number of weeks of year. That same place came up for sale this year. I thought it was not going to sell. The offering price we were given was $83,000 in 1982. This time it was about $900,000. It is ridiculous. What can be done about that? Who is responsible for all this? Just supply and demand?

Seapker: I guess so. I used to think that it was anything that had water access. I don't care if it is a creek or a river or the ocean, the sound. But according to Preservation North Carolina, the statewide preservation organization, the private preservation organization; things in Raleigh, Durham, the mountains that have no water access are threatened by this same over evaluation of the land versus the buildings that sit on them. So consequently, any historic property is in jeopardy of being wiped out because the land is so valuable; so much more valuable than people's concepts of the value of the building. I find that to be absolutely frightening because that is the quickest way to just eradicate our heritage, our visual heritage.

Jones: I heard someone recently said that this area in particular seemed to have a lot of ancestor worship. They worshipped buildings that were falling apart and needed to come down. There was nothing wrong with going forward with modern buildings, modern architecture because we live in an age that requires it. When I asked him shouldn't we also preserve the past in where we came from. He said you can take a few things like that but look what they're doing I don't think that's right. We have books. We have films. We do we need to go into it. It is just stopping money. I haven't interviewed him yet. I may not.

Seapker: I'd probably kill him. I wouldn't allow him to survive.

Jones: Have you run across this kind of thought?

Seapker: Rarely. Because for the most part, people who seek out historic buildings like them. Now you'll get people who do not respect the totality of the historic fabric. There was a situation recently where a large house was sold for rehabilitation. All of the bathrooms put in, in the early 20th century or late 19th century by the architect Kenneth Murchison, were yanked out and were up fitted with new fixtures.

Jones: That's out of character.

Seapker: It's irresponsible of an owner of a historic building to do that. But there were no covenants preventing that measure from being taken. One of the things that I am not pleased about is the willingness of people who have come here to-- who rewrite history. They much rather make it up than do the research to prove the truth. That very much annoys me. I hate the Ghost Walk concept, which is just totally made up.

Jones: It's like a Disney movie.

Seapker: That kind of history just drives me crazy. It's not history. Its presentation but it's not history.

Jones: There's evidently a lot of money to be made with that kind of thing. Because there seems to be an awful lot of books out these past couple of years. I took a look at a list of books just the other day and my head was swimming. I want you to tell us about the tours that you and Ed run and tell us about the cemetery. That historic place. What is being done there? Where do you go on your tours? What kind of people-- usually during cruise ships, or people coming down here, package deals?

Seapker: In 1999, we established an organization or a company called Tours by Degrees. The name comes from actually a reaction to some of the so-called history that I just mentioned. All of our guides have degrees in the subject matter that they are providing tourists for. And therefore, Tours by Degrees. Despite the fact that my hairdresser hates that title, we haven't changed it. She thinks it has something to do with running through the three degrees or we're going to give you the three degree. So anyway, we've maintained that title. WE started out with the shore excursions for a cruise ship, the Royal Viking Sun which was a Cunard ship. We had been lectures aboard in '97. We tried to get the business in '98 but because our fax machine was deficient, we managed to lose that contract but we did manage to pick it up in '99. Since then seemingly have been doing cruise ship tours; shore excursions. The Royal Viking Sun was a large ship that came into the State port and held I believe, 700 people. So, most of the cruise ships that we get are the smaller lines. American Cruise line, American Canadian Caribbean Cruise line and Clipper who are now Cruise West. We do their shore excursions. It depends what they want. We've also done two other big ships but we let the-- I'll do a prospectus on each tour that we would offer and send it to them. They get to select which ones they want to do. And to a large extent they select them based on their clientele. How agile they are. Wilmington is a tough town to deal with because we were built in the days when steps were considered de regur. So at the Bellamy Mansion you have 87 steps if you go from ground to the basement and up to the belvedere; and no elevators. So, it is a tough town for people who have mobility problems.

Jones: That Latimer House, no air conditioning, a flight of stairs up stairs. What do you think about the talk, on one hand people says there is a possibility and on the other it says it can't happen, on the State port being moved to South Point?

Seapker: Well, it will be a whole other way of life. I don't know if they would move the entire operation or just the biggest-- the portion that could contain--

Jones: I've heard someone say that it will never happen because there is no infrastructure to support it.

Seapker: That's true. They can't even build the project across the river on Eagle's Island because of the lack of infrastructure. That would stand to reason. Brunswick County has a deficiency in that therefore it could be a problem.

Jones: These tour ships do come in and said if a large ship came in I guess the draft was there to take care of it.

Seapker: It can come in from the State port but it can't come downtown.

Jones: Are these people good to work with? I mean the people you have on the tours. Are they suitably interested and you design various things to what they want to see.

Seapker: Uh-huh.

Jones: What about the cemetery? What's happening over there? You have so many things that you're providing for people besides come see your dead relatives.

Seapker: (laughs) Well, actually I've been lobbying the cemetery company board to try to do some programs like adopt a plot or provide a friend's group to come and help with various projects. It never really went anywhere. When Virginia Stewart was here as the public history professor, she organized a grant, which Cape Fear Museum participated in and a variety of other organizations, to bring two specialists. One woman by the name of Lynn Strangs-- I can't say the woman's name. Anyway, who is really a conservation person of gravestones and how to properly put one back together if it's broken. How to clean it. She was our first visiting scholar. She was followed subsequently- actually through a contact Will Moore had in Cambridge, by Bill Clendaniel, who was the Director of Mount Auburn Cemetery. The first of the rural cemeteries in the US and a rural cemetery is literally a cemetery that is outside the city boundaries. And was a phenomenon in the Annabelle Amira all over the US. Clendaniel came and presented a really remarkable program. They had had a development plan for Mount Auburn and all of these cemeteries are facing extinction because they are running out of land. They are having to maintain places that are not endowed eternally. Their maintenance needs to go on eternally. So it is really quite a quandary. The master plan that they had done for Mount Auburn, demonstrated a variety of things that would be models for Wilmington's Oakdale Cemetery; Wilmington's Rural Cemetery. Particularly, creating scatter grounds and columbaria.

Jones: What are scatter grounds?

Seapker: Scatter grounds are pieces of property in which ashes are commonly mixed with the soil. Ashes of cremated people. Then columbaria are some sort of containment unit generally above ground, for ashes; for cremated remains. In the case of Mount Auburn, their topography is very much like Oakdale's topography. It is very hilly and undulating. So they've taken hills and kind of capped them with low walls in which cremation remain vessels can be placed. Then some sort of identification of who's buried there. It was a beautiful arrangement. Most of these columbaria look like mailboxes of public housing project. They are horrible looking things. These that Mount Auburn did were so beautiful. They will lend themselves to replication at Oakdale. At any rate, we had a new superintendent. Mary Gornto was the Chairman of the Board. I was asked to meet with them one day and asked to form a Friend's group for Oakdale. After having lobbied these people for years, I could hardly say no. It has probably been one of the most difficult things of my professional career because I've always been in the nonprofit world but I've never had to start one. I've always presumably improved one. So, starting one was quite an undertaking. The Friends are chartered to basically help initiate projects that will enhance Oakdale's role in the community. Oakdale has so many things going for it as all of these cemeteries do. You've got the history of the people buried there. You have the funerary art that is demonstrated on the stones. You've got the plants around, lots of old plants that are not readily available anymore. And you've got a birding paradise. The birds hangout there because nobody's threatening them. Nobody is feeding them either but that's okay. They manage to fend for themselves for food. We've been able to do all kinds of different tours. We've hooked up with a man in Kure who has Percheron horses and brings them down. We do wagon rides; horse drawn wagon rides through Oakdale. So it's been really fun to try to find new aspects. Our annual meeting speaker this year was a woman who specializes in angel sculpture and interpreting angel sculpture. The day after her lecture at the annual meeting, we had her do a tour of a cemetery she's never been to before. Of course we had all the angels plotted out. We could just deposit her on a gravesite and she could speak about the angel because of her familiarity with the sculpture. I don't know many professors, art professors, art history professors who are as flexible as she was to be able to be just deposited.

Jones: Is there any land left out there?

Seapker: There is. There are.

Jones: That cemetery is interesting because of the way it is divvied up. The civil war or the pauper's grave. Those families that bought land and plots and so forth. All the people who's done research. I know Chris Fonville had a couple of his classes spend a lot of time drawing diagrams and so forth and trying to find names. Do you have a record of all the names whether they were [inaudible] or not?

Seapker: We have a fairly good record. There were some lapses in the very initial stage. Apparently they weren't quite-- I don't even know that they had someone to tend the cemetery other than the Board. So I don't know everybody's name were recorded. As a matter of fact, I think the earliest record is 1867. Can that be? No, had to be earlier, 1857. The first entry was 1855. There are some early gaps and--

Jones: We had a lot of people calling to ask for some of this information or come look at it because they are doing genealogy research. I imagine you get a lot.

Seapker: Yes. The manner of keeping records was really quite intense. Cross-referencing. They did a good job when they did it. Of course, the yellow fever struck in 1862, and again a gap of a few months. It wasn't as long.

Jones: There is a Jewish cemetery. It has its own history. How far is the African American--

Seapker: They are right next door. There is only a chain linked fence that separates them. I am not convinced that the black cemetery was not originally apart of Oakdale. What I need is a survey. That's getting tough to get. At any rate, that's certainly a potential alliance in essence. Of course, after the Second World War, the cemetery expanded across the creek. You have a totally different view. It is basically flat, unlandscaped. Monuments in one section and the tablets embedded in the ground that you can just mow over in the other section. That's where we have the most graves available. People are just not intrigued by easy to mow gravesites. There is also the Neo Section, the Live Oak Section before you get to the entrance to Oakdale on the right; allows above ground markers and is now starting to leaf out with good vegetations. They planted live oaks in there. Well, Live Oak Section, live oaks. So, that's becoming a more popular site. Then there is undeveloped bands of land. Not great swaths but sort of narrow bands that could be developed.

Jones: It's such an interesting place. I am so glad they didn't try to modernize the roads. It adds to it, you know.

Seapker: One of the things that the Friend's has funded this year but have yet to see are section markers because people get very lost out there. I can tell you that your ancestors in Section B Lot 132. You could look all day for Section B 132. But with the section markers, you have a fighting chance of knowing where.

Jones: You have days like Memorial Day where you bring in a lot of people? Or is there constant activity?

Seapker: There is constant activity. But then of course, if we do a particular special program, we have more folks. We do a thing in the fall--

Jones: For Ghost Walks?

Seapker: No. We do not do ghosts at Oakdale. We do not to anything that smacks of creepy. That's not the sort of place Oakdale is. We don't do the Addams Family. The fall event that we do and I bet you didn't know that October is National Cemetery Appreciation Month.

Jones: Well does that have anything to do with Halloween?

Seapker: I don't know. But we do an event, a Sunday afternoon event called Gossip, Graves and Grapes. Not your mother's cemetery tour. We try to focus on some of the more interesting folks. Last time people related the maritime trades and this year we will be doing people who are related to the railroad industry. There is wine and nice finger food and interesting tours.

Jones: Of course, some of the people that are buried there are not from here. They had the misfortune of being put there. I wonder how much is fact or fiction about our female spy Rosa?

Seapker: Rose O'Neal Greenhow.

Jones: Also the Kutchins [ph?] who had a daughter entombed in a whiskey casket?

Seapker: He was a commission merchant actually. Nancy Martin.

Jones: That's it. You could not sit down at your typewriter. and make up some of these stories so I figured they had to be true.

Seapker: Interestingly, Beaufort North Carolina--

Jones: I do use a computer. I do. I use a computer.

Seapker: Beaufort, North Carolina also has a young girl entombed in a casket of spirits.

Jones: Was that the thing they did?

Seapker: I guess if you wanted to bring the body back to home, that was really the only way. The tragedy with Nancy Martin's situation was that she and her brother went with her father on this sea voyage. Nancy dies on the outside leg. That was bad enough. But on the way back, Martin's son was washed overboard.

Jones: Didn't hear about that.

Seapker: So here is this man coming back to town, having to report to his wife that he lost two children. I cannot image the anguish with which that man approached Wilmington.

Jones: Unbelievable. Who are some of the, in your opinion, who are some of the, I guess, the most prominent people or some of the odd people? This is for the public who's going to watch this.

Seapker: I guess following up on my comments about James Sprint, his family's array of gravestones is just magnificent. It backs up to the Murchison plot on which is the mausoleum that Kenneth Murchison, New York architect designed for his father. Also on that same Murchison plot is the seated full figure angel who is just incredible. She is just gorgeous. You've got the Civil War monument that was put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It is interesting, they had to go to New York to get the bronze statue cast but they brought it back and put it on Mount Airy granite. It was at least on North Carolina footings. Of course that statue faces what was the old entrance to Oakdale, which must have been really quite something to come up that hill and see that monument ahead of you. We have Phineas Fanning monument in the Masonic Section. He was a fascinating person. A master mason who was the Grandmaster of the State of North Carolina as well as having been head of St. John's Lodge, number three here. Number one here. He was a signed painter and decorative painter. Sort of stencil kinds of things in houses. He married at the tender age of 72. Throughout his life, he took in orphans. And part of the mission of freemasons is to look after widows and orphans. So, he certainly did his job in taking in these orphans to train them in his profession. He has a magnificent stone out there put up by St. John's Lodge, which look like the ruins of Solomon's Temple. There is a truncated oak tree across the entrance. There's all kind of lichen and strange things growing on the stone. They are all part of the stone. At the top is an hourglass with the sand run out. Phineas's time was over. Oh gosh, let's see who else is-- well, we have the grave of the Bacon family. Henry, being the architect of the Lincoln Memorial. He is represented by a beautiful stele of an anthemion architectural-- classical architectural symbol. His grave is not far from Pembroke Jones Mausoleum, which was designed by his son in-law, John Russell Pope, architect of the Jefferson Memorial and a number of other buildings in Washington and elsewhere. I think it's interesting how many architect designed creations are out at Oakdale. That's really kind of rare. As a matter of fact, that is a theme that in terms of the architectural history of Wilmington is very much a theme. The first building to be designed by a true, real, honest to god architect was St. James Church in 1839-40 by Thomas U. Walter, the architect of the Capitol Dome in Washington DC.

Jones: Wait a minute, the St. James; okay the present St. James. The church itself, actually they were--

Seapker: That's the second building.

Jones: The second, that's right. I have a photo of those. Actually, the original was just a house.

Seapker: They likened it to a Dutch barn.

Jones: An all encompassing thing. Their circuit writer who eventually took over.

Seapker: It was a checkered history to be sure. In those days, Wilmington wasn't real good at staying within the lines. St. James was kind of parked half out in the street. When the city did the street improvements along the Market Street and corridor, they would up unearthing a few more bodies because apparently the graveyard boundaries seemed to be were fairly mobile as well. They didn't stay within the lines.

Jones: Are there any amusing or sort of outrageous, or maybe outrageous is just too strong a word, gravesites at Oakdale. Usually every cemetery has something or a saying on the marker that will have you collapsing in laughter? You figure those people are getting even, or you know something like this.

Seapker: The inscriptions aren't too strange. We have one sort of poignant one where on the base of the footstone, someone has inscribed 'Bring flowers'. That is sort of poignant. Some of them are a little more lyrical or effusive than others so you get kind of a mixed bag.

Jones: I have not read a whole lot of them out there. Because I'm under the impression and I still am, so many were purchased by families way back when. And so you've got it's easy to take a look and see. And then there's the children's and so forth. The ones that I really love to look at are out west. Up in New England, church type of burials spots are now incorporated into townships which is so interesting. Oakdale seems so well taken care of and well thought out that it is a treasure. Beautiful I think. What do you have up your sleeve next? Are you going to retire?

Seapker: Mm-mm.

Jones: What would you like to have happen in Wilmington; in southeastern North Carolina? Something maybe of anything you've thought about, or planned on, or hoped for, that you'd plain ol' like to see?

Seapker: What I would like to do and probably with a lot of assistance and collaboration with Ed, is to redo the Wren Book, Tony Wren's Architectural History of Wilmington. That book is now 20 plus years old. And we know a vast amount more than we knew back then, which is only to be expected. To a large extent, what we have learned between 1984 and now has come as a benefit of the Plaque Program that the Historic Wilmington Foundation does. Because we've now investigated a lot more of the details of these buildings than we ever did before or had time to do. I think just basically we know a lot more about how the town developed.

Jones: Are we finding records on that? Are you doing sleuthing? Or they're available?

Seapker: With every plaque you nail something else down. We have a project pending right now-- not 'we' but Cape Fear Community College is threatening to put a parking garage in the depressed railway right of way, which was cut in I believe 1854. Of course, we have no native stone here. So the stone that cordons that corridor is a treasure and was brought in I believe from Elm City. I'm not even sure. Elm City, I need to look that up. But anyway, that is a project that I don't want to see done haphazardly where somebody just comes in with a bulldozer and starts willy-nilly tearing that stuff out. IT is way too valuable of a historic resource to treat in that fashion. I hope that will be a project that A) we will learn a lot about because I'm hoping they will do some archaeology. And I think that had been a streambed that had been widened and deepened to accommodate the rail cut. At any rate, you can't hardly turnaround in town that you don't uncover something.

Jones: Why was the old slave market done away with? Is there any way to salvage that?

Seapker: It was removed because they replaced it with the market on Front Street in 1883. So, it was torn down at that point. It wasn't exclusively a slave market. It was the City Market. Slaves were apparently sold there but so was--

Jones: Everything else.

Seapker: Beef and poultry and dairy and everything. I guess they just decided they needed more space for traffic. Gee, what a remarkable conclusion.

Jones: It's too bad.

Seapker: That would be a nice sort of weigh station for people waiting for the horse-drawn trolley or whatever other tour was going on.

Jones: Do you see more and more activity going on downtown with tours for locals and tourists? Do you think that this Convention Center will ever be built?

Seapker: I think it will.

Jones: Will it add to the traffic down there being used for a year round building than just for specifics?

Seapker: I think so. I think it will eventually show up. I think it is just preposterous that we don't have one at the moment.

Jones: We need a new concert hall. I don't know why they can't all be incorporated all under one roof so to speak, or in one area. You don't have to go to Myrtle Beach to see cowboy music. Instead you can stay here. Then again, I'm not from here. Although I do appreciate, well getting to be old myself I have an appreciation for restoration and upkeep. Janet, is there anything else you'd like to tell us? Let me ask you this. What do you feel up to this point, has probably been your greatest success in your work life? You're accomplishments, put it that way. You just told me what you want to do.

Seapker: I guess probably the museum.

Jones: You did bring that awfully far.

Seapker: And I also had a huge amount of help from very, very good Boards. Until the last two years, I had the most remarkable collection of people who served on the Museum Board.

Jones: Now were they appointed? Or did you have a hand in selecting them?

Seapker: Well, we had two Boards. We had the County Museum Board, which the County Commission appointed. Then we had the Associates Board, which was a self elected group. In many cases, board members would rotate from the County appointed board on to the Associates board. That was a real good training mechanism for them.

Jones: That was. It was a benefit.

Seapker: They were people whose skills may not have seemed particularly appropriate for the museum in one aspect but there would be ways to use them. Their support was always-- I always appreciated their support.

Jones: Who are your best dalliances as far as tours and going to museums? Is there an age group? Male, female? Young people? Anyone?

Seapker: It can be a real mix of people.

Jones: How about those from other countries that visit us?

Seapker: We have very little experience with international visitors. We are supposed to get a German Cruise Ship in here in 2008. That will be interesting.

Jones: And they're big tourists too.

Seapker: And the population of the ship are said to be people in their 40s and 50s, which is unusual because you are mostly dealing with the geriatric crowd. This is a whole new game.

Jones: The Germans do travel. Germans and the Japanese. They do.

Seapker: The other international cruise ship that came in was a British one so that was a no brainer. It was fascinating to me. One of the excursions that I enjoy offering is a day in the country and we take them up to Duplin County to Bunker Hill House, which is a fabulous antebellum cruciform plan house. A private home. We come down to have lunch at the Country Squire. Go to Canon House; not Harmony Home, the Kenan House. What is the name of the place?

Jones: Where the Kenan house is? Why did you ask me?

Seapker: I know I just had a total blank. Anyway. Then down to the Duplin Winery. The Duplin Wines are not to my palette, but our English visitors just adored them and were very put out that they were not available in England. So they really dug this Sweet Scuppernong wine. I like sherry but I am not too keen on the sweet wines.

Jones: Well everytime the British come in, you know, yell at them, "The British are coming! The British are coming!"

Seapker: Well I'll be interested to see if we are able to offer that tour to the German line if they would like it as well.

Jones: Janet, thanks for coming.

Seapker: You're welcome.

Jones: It has been very enlightening. You've got so much to offer and Ed too. I can't imagine Wilmington Historic District or any part in the history of this area going on without the two of you here.

Seapker: We've certainly enjoyed our stint here. When I retired Ed got this idea that we should move to the eastern shore of Virginia. He had found the perfect job for me.

Jones: In St. Michael's shucking out crab?

Seapker: No, it was developing a kind of an environmental center in Metro Pongo [ph?]. And oddly enough, my favorite grade school professor and his wife moved from Cooperstown to Metro Pongo. I'm sure that Annabelle would be terrified if I ever moved there. We just couldn't grapple with the fact of abandoning all this knowledge that we've collected over the years of Wilmington.

Jones: I don't know anyone that has the knowledge that the two of you have. I don't know, one of the things that I wanted to ask you and didn't was in amassing all this, you live in a house. Have you given over half of the house as a depository to all the written and pictorial information you've got?

Seapker: Certainly a large portion of the attic and other spaces. We try, we have obviously the basic reference books and things of that sort. We try not to duplicate.

Jones: But you've gone that extra mile and you've retained-- you've been here long enough in positions noteworthy enough, both to be given the information you've been looking for and on your own knowing where to get it.

Seapker: We try not to duplicate lookup-able information that other people have.

Jones: Are you training anyone to take over?

Seapker: No. Nobody's evidenced themselves.

Jones: Unbelievable. That's what makes it so special and what makes this interview special. And those who look at it and listen to it.

Seapker: It's also a factor of having had access to things. We used to joke about when we moved here, we had more friends here than we had in Raleigh. I was here more than I was in Raleigh. You had mentioned in passing a newcomers group. I was just shocked to go speak at a newcomers group and somebody asked me if I ever met a native Wilmingtonian. Yeah, a lot of them. They have been terribly generous with access to their family material and there are people that on a regular basis I call for information or photographs. I don't think I've ever been denied access. They might find it a pain in the neck to have to go ferret this material out but they do it.

Jones: Well I'll tell you what I'm hearing now. Wilbur and his research, he has no problem what so ever. Some people we have access to, are getting older. Because of this they are victim to the older diseases of old age. One woman who I had dearly wanted to get on tape, her husband's we have over the place, sweetheart, she is, she really is. She called me one day and said, "You know, two things." She says, "No one talks to, interviews me." I told her, I said you have a life there too. I want you to talk about growing up here and working in a shipyard. How you became Mrs. So and So; your involvement in Wilmington's Ten and all these different things. Talk about [inaudible] and I named her name. She said I almost forgot who that person is. But then she says a name and she says, "I can be sitting and talking to a group of friends or my family and then suddenly forget who they are." I'm thinking too bad. You are doing a service by having the content on a lot of these people of interest. I talked to a 90 year old woman who was absolutely charming, absolutely delightful and she said no one had asked her these questions. She said, "I want you to give me more of these DVDs to give them to my grandchildren. I am me." So anyway, now that I put you in a category, we are going to close. And I again thank you so much.

Seapker: You are welcome, Carroll.

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