Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Seeman, Ernest, interviewee
Interview conducted by Conway, Mimi
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 212 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-01-04, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0012)
Author: Mimi Conway
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976. Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series B. Individual Biographies. Southern Oral History Program Collection (B-0012)
Author: Ernest Seeman
Description: 300 Mb
Description: 52 p.
Note: Interview conducted on February 13, 1976, by Mimi Conway; recorded in Tumbling Creek, Tennessee.
Note: Transcribed by Patricia Crowley.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series B. Individual Biographies, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Ernest Seeman, February 13, 1976.
Interview B-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Seeman, Ernest, interviewee


Interview Participants

    ERNEST SEEMAN, interviewee
    MIMI CONWAY, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
MIMI CONWAY:
When were you born, and where were you born?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I was born on Jackson Street over in the eastern part of Durham, North Carolina.
MIMI CONWAY:
When were you born?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
November 13, 1887.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me a little bit about your mother and father, and a little bit about your grandparents?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My mother was a poor country girl from Greensboro, North Carolina, and she had just a reading and writing education. But she was not literary. She was a farmer; she was very able. And she was very devoted to her family and my father and hard work. He looked up to her to look after the home. He had bought several acres (about four, I think) from Fred Gerr; Fred Gerr had inherited a lot of land from the Civil War. And land was very cheap then: it was thirteen cents an acre after the Civil War in Durham. And he had a Negro mistress; he'd pass our house every morning in his buggy going to see his woman down in east Durham. This fretful old horse, he plowed and rode around with it, and he finally shot his brains out when he got unprofitable. He was a heartless old man.
MIMI CONWAY:
Now, when did your father come to this country?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My father was born in Canada.1 And he was a fine vehicle manufacturer: made Victorias and surreys and all that for the rich people. He had been trained in Germany;2 he had to go around like a Methodist preacher, and

Page 2
stay so long in certain places to learn the different types. And he was working at Kiel in the time of Bismark ("blood and guts" Bismark), and he saw a prominent citizen whip a peasant who didn't mind him (didn't get out of the road or something). It was noblesse oblige. He was a very sensitive man—so am I.
MIMI CONWAY:
This is your grandfather?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
OK. And what was his name?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Heinrich Frederick Ernst Seeman. So he came over to this country and stopped at a boarding house in New York, and fell in love with the boarding house keeper's daughter (French). And they went away to Canada and got married, and raised quite a family and prospered. He did good work. And his son was John.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who was your father?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. His son was John Seeman;3 he was the one that was going to beat Brodie Duke up—took off his coat . . . He did the wagons and heavy work, and they had an old Negro (a yellow Negro) named Nathan who was the blacksmith. That's all there was in the carriage factory. But I can still smell the smell of paint and blacksmith's smells. And they were beating iron to put into these fine vehicles.
MIMI CONWAY:
How did your father come from Canada to North Carolina?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, let me collect my wits. He had asthma, and the cold weather didn't agree with him (he liked it warm and sunny). And he had been rooked; he traded with a rascal who came up there after the Civil War and offered to swap his farm for his farm. Why, he had a carriage factory on it, and he had a good farm and was doing well. And this scoundrel took over.

Page 3
And when my grandfather and his family got to Greensboro4 they found an old clay gulley over south of Greensboro that wouldn't grow anything. So he had to go to carrying the mail; he was still a young man. And I used to have his old horse Pistol that he carried with him. And one Sunday my father and the other boys were out playing in the barn and my grandfather came out and said, (he came to the window and said) , "Heinrich, how would you like to be a printer?" "I'd like it all right." (He wanted to get rid of the problem). "Well, go down and see Mr. Joseph Reece in the morning; he's advertising in the paper for a printer's devil."
MIMI CONWAY:
Was that in Durham? Or was he still in Greensboro?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
This begins his printing career. So he got a job for a year with not a cent of pay, not even a circus ticket (they gave away circus tickets, but somebody else got them all). But he stuck to it, and he was a good printer's stock: he was careful and he liked printing, and he became a master printer. His employees gave him a leather watch fob one time (had a jeweler make it). H. E. Seeman: Master Printer.5
MIMI CONWAY:
Then did he start his own company?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he went over to Henderson, North Carolina and got some more practice. And then he came back to Durham and rented a room up over Proctor's Grocery Store, and called it "Seeman's Printing Room."
MIMI CONWAY:
What street was that on?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
It was on Roxboro Street. The Proctors were prominent grocers there and landowners; they were the leading foodhandlers there for the young city.
MIMI CONWAY:
Had he met your mother by this time?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My mother had come down from Greensboro as a raw country girl

Page 4
to work under her sister Ada, [Smith] a widow milliner who had started off with a farm with nothing, and had built up quite a little trade. She was the leading milliner of the town, and very jealous of the title. She didn't take into her head the others had a right to do millinery except her, and she guarded that right. Colonel Julian S. Carr, who used to own the Bull Durham factory, had started it with two partners, he liked Aunt Ada. And she was very full of finesse, and he was a big bloated southern colonel, who was supposed to have been in the Čivil War, but I don't think he was ever near anything but face powder. I talked with him about that one time; I said, "Colonel (he was teacher of the Methodist Sunday school class at Trinity Church, and he was awful big stuff) . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Was he your Sunday school teacher?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No, we were Presbyterians.
MIMI CONWAY:
Oh, that's right; OK.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He was a big Methodist, and he was using that for . . . a weapon. He was a big spender, a big strutter, always thinking of Jule Carr, but he was generous too. You could always go to General Carr and get a contribution for most anything. He came from over in Chatham County, over that a way.
MIMI CONWAY:
How was he using the church as a weapon?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he was going to build a church with the highest steeple in town. So he had an architect design a very tall steeple that you could see for miles out in the country to say, "That's Jule Carr's church." And I used to have to walk around from Aunt Ada's house on Cleveland Street around to that churchyard, and there were the old graves of the former church before the steeple was built. On the day of a funeral in the afternoon, you could hear the donging of the morning bells way out in the country too.

Page 5
MIMI CONWAY:
Could you hear the Bull Durham whistle?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, the Bull factory, when they first started up (Blackwell's factory it was then). But Blackwell went broke and Carr let him down and took over. Oh, I believe that was Buck Duke's outfit, when they put on the Indian war whoop. They had a whistle constructed to wake the hands up; it was supposed to whoop like an Indian. It was a ferocious thing; it'd wake everybody up, you know, in the morning.
MIMI CONWAY:
How'd they ever think that up, to make the whistle sound like a whooping Indian?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I don't know. "who-o-o-o-o, who-o-o-o-o" it was shrieking off and on. That would wake up the cotton mills. Brodie Duke had a Pearl mill near my house: a stinking mill village, terrible wages—named for one of his daughters, Pearl.6
MIMI CONWAY:
Your mother worked with your Aunt Ada as a milliner?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. She was quick with her fingers; she caught right on.
MIMI CONWAY:
And had their family been in North Carolina for long?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, he was the ruling elder in the Presbyterian church on Battleground Road—that's where Cornwallis and some other general fought in the Revolution. And that became a main artery to Greensboro from the west. And old Buffalo Church had been started there long ago, And he had had slaves.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who is he?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My grandfather. [Albright]
MIMI CONWAY:
Your mother's father?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. He got me to disdaining him, because when he was visiting us down in Durham (which he did now and then), there was nothing he liked to tell about better than whipping women slaves. He just reveled in it. And

Page 6
there he was, a ruling elder in the church.7 He had a lot of white whiskers. I never liked him [unknown] But he was a good farmer; he and his boys raised wheat and rye and corn and potatoes and stuff.
MIMI CONWAY:
How did you feel when he told you that he whipped his slaves, his women slaves, when you were a boy and heard him tell stories?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, I just fumed inside; I didn't argue with him. I didn't like it; I didn't like him—it made me hate him.
MIMI CONWAY:
When did your mother's family first come to North Carolina?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, we've got a little book at home. A woman at North Carolina had to do a dissertation,8 and she chose the Albright family for his dissertation. Elizabeth's [Ernest's wife] got the book at home in the library. All the old castles on the Rhine that the Albrights used to have . . . Albrecht-Durer, that's where he got his name.
MIMI CONWAY:
Is that your mother's family or your father's family?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My mother's family, the Albrights.
MIMI CONWAY:
And when did they come to this country?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, way back.
MIMI CONWAY:
In the seventeen hundreds?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Earlier?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Sixteen hundreds or early seventeen hundreds, I should say.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did they come down from New York to North Carolina, or what?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I think they generally did. Philadelphia, that was the landing place, and then they would journey south on horseback, most generally.
MIMI CONWAY:
Now, about your own education: where did you go to school as a boy, and how many years of schooling?

Page 7
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I was always interested in reading, and I began to read very early and look at picture books.9 And they'd have a time putting me to bed at night; I'd be sitting up at a little card table writing a story and illustrating it, about how he lost his tail and so forth. And my mother'd have to come and rouse me off to bed; I was staying up too late (I had a regular bedtime). Then I began to read Uncle Remus and Joel Chandler Harris.
MIMI CONWAY:
Where did you go to school?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, Miss Ida Thompson, a Baptist old maid, very strict and a very fine old lady, she had had a college education, I think (or something equal to one). She became a schoolteacher, and was accepted by the county board of education and sent out to Geer's school (old man Fred Geer owned this place). He owned a lot of land: owned the Negro cemetery.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that C. W. Toms,10 who became the president of the American Tobacco Company was the superintendent of schools and your fourth grade teacher?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
At first you had to pay to go to school inside the corporation; my father had to pay to send me to a public school in Durham.
MIMI CONWAY:
How much did he have to pay?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
So that's when C.W. Toms came along. Had to pay extra, but he wanted us to have a good education so he tried to give us a good chance. My father took me to see Ms. Jordan, the first grade teacher.
MIMI CONWAY:
Excuse me. Can you tell me about what you remember about C.W. Toms?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
OK. Toms was then superintendent. He took me down to see Ms. Jordan. He said, "I've got a new pupil here for you." So she sat me down at a desk and began to test me on "cat and rat and Ned and Ted." And I cried; I was insulted, because I was reading heavy stuff by that time.

Page 8
MIMI CONWAY:
Was this in the 1890s?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
OK.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Then Mr. Toms came down and took me by the hand. He was an astute man; he knew about where I belonged from my reading and all. So he took me to the fourth grade and set me down there; he said, "This is where your desk is going to be." And then I began to meet some real teachers: Miss Bessie Battle.
MIMI CONWAY:
What kind of things had you been reading on your own as a boy? I think earlier you mentioned to me that you had been reading Gorky's autobiography.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I was reading everything from Shakespeare down: all the books I could find around the house. At those times E.P. Roe was a prominent novelist, and
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you also read Gorky and Rousseau, or was that at another time?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I some took to poetry, and poetry took to me. And Ernest Thompson Seaton came into my life; about that time I discovered The Raggety Lobe and The Lone Boy and the Wolf . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me what you remember about Toms when you were young, and what kind of a man he was?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
So Mr. Toms one of us became the other's protégé. I admired him greatly; and my father admired him greatly because about that time Duke heard that Toms was preaching against cigarettes on the blackboards. "Well, this will never do, Buck. We've got to stop this." And they were on the school board, of course. So Duke went to Toms. He had five or

Page 9
six children, and he was getting about two thousand dollars. And he was a very bright man; he had been to Carolina. And he was an organizer from way back. Duke says, "Toms, how would you like to get ten thousand dollars to start with [laughter] ." Boy, bit it like a fish! So then Buck Duke gave him full charge of the American Tobacco Company, to reorganize it. And he began by firing all the old hands who had been there sitting on their rumps so long; thought they were safe, you know, but they weren't safe at all. And in the office of the American Tobacco Company were these grinders grinding up tobacco for snuff and so forth—a dusty place, and all whitewashed (the walls were whitewashed instead of painted—it was cheaper). And Negroes everywhere—but this was in the office. They used Negroes for everything: errand boys, and there were thousands of Negroes working for the company making this stuff. And they lived in the most awful hovels. Five Points, north Durham, where the two main streets and the other street met, thousands of Negroes would come every afternoon and every morning going to and from the tobacco factory. "Where are you going?" "I'm going to the Bull." [laughter] They were full of jests.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you ever ask your old teacher Toms who told you that smoking was very bad, why he changed his mind?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
[laughter] No, but I wrote about it.11
MIMI CONWAY:
In your novel Tobacco Town, or somewhere else?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I've been hitting them a knock all the time, because I was against tobacco myself. Toms had convinced me. I tried cigarettes for about a week, and it made a bad taste in my mouth. I never tried them any more, and I never chewed tobacco; never drank liquor. That's why I'm cursed with such long life. You have to take it like it falls.

Page 10
MIMI CONWAY:
When did you leave school to begin your working career? How old were you when you left school to begin working?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
When I went to the printing office?
MIMI CONWAY:
Right.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
About ten or twelve, I guess.
MIMI CONWAY:
Yes. I think you told me you were twelve.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, my father thought we all were going to have to work, and he was aiming to make a printing factory with three heads to it. That was a bad move: we didn't get along together.
MIMI CONWAY:
You and your two brothers?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I had two brothers: Wallace and Henry. Wallace was more practical than I was, and he took to the business better. My father sent him to Raleigh to Kings College to learn shorthand and bookkeeping, and he just let me roam in the woods. I wasn't harnessed very well.
MIMI CONWAY:
But one day when you were a boy, didn't he come to you and tell you it was time to work?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
At the breakfast table: that's where he always broke unpleasant news.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did he say?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I thought it would be all right. That was his orders; I had nothing to do with it.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did he say to you that morning at the breakfast table?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
"Well, it's time you boys were getting to work now. You're going to have to run this printing office." And they had a big dynamo he had bought. He had bought a big paper cutter. He went into debt for all these things. He was personable and people liked him, and he was honest, and he

Page 11
knew his stuff. He knew printing and he knew how to . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that in the 1890s—no, the 1880s—he printed the Bull Durham labels?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. That's what killed him. He had a little tray in his printing office of bronze. He'd take a piece of carton and dip it into bronze and rub it over the printing where it had been printed. The ink would pick up the bronze. He probably designed that (at least part of it), how to make it shine like gold. And it got all in his throat; the doctor said that had a lot to do with it, his lungs.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was the making of the labels for Bull Durham the major portion of your father's printing business?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. When he landed those big contracts (there were hundreds of thousands, you see, even millions), Duke's mixture was red and black.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
MIMI CONWAY:
. . . as a printer for the Dukes, afterwards when they bought up Bull Durham. Could you tell me some more about it?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, after our connection with C.W. Toms he was a very astute man, a diplomat, and was using us and everybody else for all he was worth. He considered Durham the tobacco company's town. So here comes Mr. Toms one morning to the printing office; comes in the front door, barges into my father's private office (he had a private office, to talk over tricks) and says, "Henry, I want to have a little talk with you." He says, "Come right in, Mr. Toms." And they go in and close the door; everybody wonders what this great man with the gold walking cane that Mr. Duke had given him (his favorite stooges, he always gave them a golden-headed walking cane—that was a badge of authority) . . .

Page 12
MIMI CONWAY:
Was this Washington Duke? Or which Duke gave them the walking canes?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
That was Buck Duke. Buck Duke gave it to them; Washington Duke was out of it by this time. Washington Duke was an old man living with his sister-in-law, Miss Annie Roney, up in front of the college.
MIMI CONWAY:
And so Mr. Toms was in the office with your father?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did he come to say?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He says, "Look here on this New York paper, it's telling all about the smallpox in Durham." We had smallpox regularly there, from the Negroes' filth. He says, "This won't do at all; it's hurting our tobacco business. I want you to help me curb it. You write a piece for the paper and say that's all a mistake, and it ain't near as bad as it's pictured, and it's been played up." So Ed Rollins and Joe King owned the newspapers, the morning and evening newspapers.
MIMI CONWAY:
What were the papers' names?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
The Durham Morning Herald and the Evening Sun. And the Durham Morning Herald belonged to Ed Rollins and Joe King, and they had a printing office in their office in the Main Street Pharmacy. And their presses were rolling down there printing the newspapers. And the Durham Daily Sun had been started long before any of them, and it had a picture of the sun. And they were up over one of the hardware stores, upstairs. And the man that owned that was an alcoholic, so his wife (a school teacher) had to do most of the newspaper work.
MIMI CONWAY:
So did your father write the article that Mr. Toms wanted him to write?

Page 13
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. He went around to see these two entrepreneurs, and told them what Toms wanted. And they saw to it right away: it's hurting our town, and this won't do. And he pled for the tobacco people. Rollins hadn't thought about it: he was just thinking of money. He was doing fine, and he didn't give a hoot about Toms or nobody else; he was an independent old Scotchman. And he had a fine house right near our house in north Durham; he was my neighbor.
MIMI CONWAY:
Had the Durham papers also been printing the news about smallpox, or was it just the New York papers?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
These were town papers.
MIMI CONWAY:
Town papers had been printing this.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
So did the editors stop printing that after your father went and talked to them?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Yes.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, he convinced them: you better shut up or Toms will get you.
MIMI CONWAY:
Now was this in the period before the cigarette rolling machines were bought, when the cigarettes were still rolled by black labor? Were they worried about smallpox among blacks in Durham because the blacks were rolling the cigarettes at that time? Is that what the connection was?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, ever since before the Civil War the prominent citizens had made their living on Negro rentals. My father-in-law,12 for instance, and his father before him, had been heartless. They thought that was all right. You buy a little old piece of ground somewhere on a creek or a ditch, or a

Page 14
filth/slop place, and build you a little nigger cabin on it. And then you charge them as much as the place would cost just for . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
But were blacks working in the Durham cigarette factories at the time of the smallpox?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, that's where they were working. They'd come home and go to the factories with the smallpox, and scatter it all over the country.
MIMI CONWAY:
How old were you when you began to head the press, the printery? Do you remember?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, we had quite a struggle there after my father died; we had a lawsuit and all that stuff. We didn't get along at all. I finally got a lawyer and bought out my two brothers.
MIMI CONWAY:
Do you remember how old you were, about?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. I was about twenty-two,13 I think.
MIMI CONWAY:
OK. And then when you began to head the printery, that was the time when you became in contact with the Dukes? Didn't you tell me that you went and had to try to collect some bills?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Tomlinson Snuff Factory was right next to our printing office, and all day you could hear this grinding and tobacco dust where they were grinding up tobacco stems to make it.
MIMI CONWAY:
Didn't you have to go and collect the bills from Brodie Duke at one point?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. My Uncle John went there and threatened to beat him up, and he paid two thousand dollars for his Victoria. Then I took my tip and went to see him to collect the printing office bill. I figured Uncle John got his, and I'd go there. He said, "Well, what do you want? Don't you know I never pay a bill?" "I know one man you paid, my Uncle John." "Oh, are you a kin to

Page 15
that son of a bitch?"—or something like that. "All right, Bill Bramham, pay this little shrimp his bill."
MIMI CONWAY:
Who was Bill Bramham?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Bill Bramham was a prominent lawyer, head of the baseball club, and a neighbor of mine. And he liked me.
MIMI CONWAY:
And was he the secretary to Brodie Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Sat up on a high stool.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did your uncle bring or make the first car that was ever in Durham, an old Maxwell?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did he make it?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My uncle and Bob Murray, a music man who sold pianos (had an agency for pianos), they went in and got an agency for the Maxwell car. And it was a big high car (sat up about this high) . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
About three feet?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . and looked like a sewing machine. And he took his sister Rose and her daughter Eunice out for a ride one afternoon, and the thing turned over.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who bought the first car in Durham? Do you remember?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I can tell you that. Well, a big crowd of people lined up out on the Roxboro Road, on the road to New York, to see George Lyon and Buck Lyon pass by. They were going to go through the country to New York by car.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who bought the first car? Was it a Duke who bought the first car?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Let me think. Yes, George Lyon.14 He was a nephew of Buck Duke's and had a lot of money.
MIMI CONWAY:
I think you also told me that you had other encounters with Duke,

Page 16
because you were doing printing work for them. Did you tell me one time that you went and met old Washington Duke, when he wanted to have a poem printed up for his sister-in-law?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Washington Duke finally got old, and went to live with Miss Ann Roney, the old woman who had kept his children during the Civil War.
MIMI CONWAY:
His sister-in-law? His wife's sister?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. And they had a mansion, and he was on the upstairs floor. I've been up there with . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Called "Fairview"?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . print proofs and things. And Miss Ann Roney was a very valiant old lady. That was the connection to Washington Duke.
MIMI CONWAY:
Do you remember what he was like, or what he said to you when you went to the house that day?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Who? Washington Duke?
MIMI CONWAY:
Right. [Interruption]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
"Here's the proof of your little club program you ordered." And I helped her with it, and the old man just sat over in the corner. He was pretty feeble by then.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that when you were working in the printery, when you were heading the printery, that on Saturday after the factory workers got out some black workers would come by and ask for special printing work? They wanted their poetry printed?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
That's interesting. They wanted to have a ballad printed. They were religious Negroes who would compose a hymn about Moses, Joshua, or

Page 17
anybody they happened to think of. They'd got somebody to help them write it out, or they'd dictate to us over the counter. They were very proud of this piece that they'd thought out and written, and then they'd take them on the streets and sell them—a penny apiece, you know,
MIMI CONWAY:
Did they make many copies, or sell many copies of their ballads?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No, that's a long time ago. In the printing office files in Durham (see, that's still going), Wallace Seeman (who is now head of it) could probably find some old ballad if you go down there. [Interruption]
Dr. Boyd is from Duke University, he was interested in history, and he was a pretty good scout to find these old pieces. And he was down there one day and saw one of these ballads the Negroes had had printed, and he wanted copies of them. So we gave him copies for his files at Trinity College.15
MIMI CONWAY:
And did you say he printed them up at Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He took them away to put them in articles, historical articles, Moses and the bullrushes, or whatever it was they were writing about. [interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
Can we go back a minute? I think you had told me about knowing Ella Fitzgerald when you were young, and her father?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me a little bit about it?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Sure. Richard Fitzgerald came down from Boston—from Massachusetts somewhere. He heard about all this big expansion in Durham, and he figured it would be a good place to sell bricks. So he bought a little piece of clay down there and opened a brickyard. He was a very handsome man, a large man, a very capable man. He had several children, and they were all well-educated. Of course, that was before any liberality between the races took

Page 18
place, and a nigger was a nigger. So he bought this clay near the white cemetery, the land that nobody wanted that you could buy cheap. And I remember the old brickyard well; the old wreck of it stood there long after. And out of that came a lot of Duke's factories; he had other brickyards in other places in the county—one brickyard couldn't supply enough bricks.
MIMI CONWAY:
For the Duke factories?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. All those big Duke factories came out of these gullies. He used Negro labor.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did Fitzgerald go one time to see Duke about selling him bricks?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Could you tell me about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
There was a white man, a proud old Southerner named Norton (I knew all his children).
MIMI CONWAY:
Who was Norton? Did he work for the tobacco company?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Norton was a builder. And this Fitzgerald goes around to Norton's house one morning and knocks on the door. And here comes Norton to the door, all angered at the very idea of a nigger coming to his front door. He said, "Don't you know better than to come to my front door? You go to the back door." "Sorry, Mr. Norton, I don't go to my own back door." So that cost him the contract, a higher price; he lost out.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who lost out?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Norton.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was Norton the builder for the Duke factories?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
And when he insulted Mr. Fitzgerald, then . . . How did he lose out? Tell me how Norton lost out? How did Fitzgerald win?

Page 19
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, Fitzgerald was a handsome man and Norton was a shrimp of a man, hot-tempered, southern-based. And he just turned him away and he didn't give him the chance; he had nothing for him.
MIMI CONWAY:
But did Fitzgerald have all of the clay? I mean, why did he eventually have to buy from Fitzgerald? Why did he have to go back to Fitzgerald?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
OK, that was before Ella Fitzgerald was known to have a voice.
MIMI CONWAY:
But did you tell me her father had trained her as a musician?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And then my mother, in the spring she had three little boys, and she had to have pants and shirts. And she'd get Maria Fitzgerald.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was that Ella's sister or mother?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Sister: young, handsome, well-educated, discreet and skillful. She was a skillful seamstress.
MIMI CONWAY:
And she sewed for your mother?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
You told me another story that I thought was very interesting, about John Merrick, another prominent black man in Durham. Could you tell me a little bit about him, and what you know personally about him?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
You through with the Fitzgeralds?
MIMI CONWAY:
Yes. [Interruption] Can you tell me about John Merrick? We were talking about different prominent blacks in Durham, and John Merrick is the man who was the barber.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He was the barber.
MIMI CONWAY:
Yes. Can you tell me a little bit about him, what you know of him personally?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
John Merrick was very handsome; he was well-dressed, and he ran a barber shop. And all the rich people came to John Merrick's chair;

Page 20
they wouldn't think of having anybody else shave them except John Merrick.
MIMI CONWAY:
How did he get to be such a prominent barber?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he was very smart. He was well-dressed, had a good voice, was full of flattery.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that he acted like a white man, and talked like a white man?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, he had a good voice and he had a good presence.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was his father white?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And he had several children. He had a wife named Violet Merrick.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that his father was white?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Bound to have been, yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Because he was a mulatto?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, he was a mulatto.
MIMI CONWAY:
But do you know who his father was?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No. Some aristocrat down south, I guess—down about Raleigh.
MIMI CONWAY:
And this is the man who later went on to head the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me about that, and how that happened, and his connection with Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
So one afternoon to the printing office, here came three men: John Merrick, Dr. Moore16 (he was a physician who'd been waiting on colored people there for years, who'd been to medical college), and a young fellow named Charlie Spaulding, who was going to be their bookkeeper and tie it together. The first move they made was to come to the Seeman Printery, and they said,

Page 21
"Now, Mr. Seeman, you print policies and forms and everything for these white companies, and we know that you know all about what we're going to need. And we're prepared to stack up quite an order with you, and we're going to need so many things."
And Dr. Moore's (the physician's) wife was a beauty doctor; she lived right in front of my mother-in-law, and my mother-in-law would go over there (this proud mother-in-law) to have her hair washed—nothing was too menial for a Negro. And there was no mixing of any kind.
MIMI CONWAY:
They called them "beauty doctors"?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Her name was Julia, Julia Moore. She'd make an engagement with Julia to have her hair washed a certain afternoon.
MIMI CONWAY:
But, now how did John Merrick get the idea (this black barber) to start an insurance company?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
"Well," he said, "Mr. Seeman, we're going to start a little insurance company, and Mr. Washington Duke has offered to lend me the money." Of course, he'd charge him plenty. He'd been talking to him in the barber's chair, and he said, "John, you're too good a man, you're too smart a man to be following a barber's trade. Why don't you have something to make some money? Insurance." He said, "What can I start?" He said, "Well, insurance is one of the best things now, and I'll lend you the money."
MIMI CONWAY:
How much did he lend him? Do you know?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I don't know, but all he needed.
MIMI CONWAY:
Right; OK.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
All he needed—and he'd charge him plenty for it. And he was the founder of all the banks there.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who? John Merrick or Washington Duke?

Page 22
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Washington Duke.
MIMI CONWAY:
OK. I'm sorry; I interrupted you, because you were saying that John Merrick came into your office to get the right forms.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, to get his forms.
MIMI CONWAY:
Didn't you give him the lease?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And upstairs we had a little cupboard where a sample of everything printed was filed away in pigeonholes under numbers. And my father would say, "Ernest, go up there and get me number 3,206." And I'd get it and bring it down and lay it on the desk, and that would be just what he wanted—maybe he'd make some changes in it.
So they became good customers, and we saw they were potential customers for more. Well, we began to work through Spaulding then; he became general manager of the insurance company. And I'd go around on Saturday when I needed a big payroll. "Good morning, Mr. Seeman." (He was very polite). "Come right in." And the secretary would drop her work and pay attention to Mr. Seeman. "How much you going to need this morning?" "Well, Mr. Spaulding, I'm going to need about five thousand dollars, or three thousand dollars." "All right, Miss Maple, draw Mr. Seeman a check for three thousand dollars." She was right on the job and tossed it out.
MIMI CONWAY:
Where was the black insurance company located in Durham?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
On Harris Street, right back of the Fidelity Bank. The Fidelity Bank was the biggest bank in town, and that was prominent real estate. No white man would have ever thought of selling a nigger land in the business section, but my father opened up a new section and Spaulding (or one of them) asked him, "Where can we locate? We need an office somewhere, and nobody will sell us any land." Well, there was a little cottage around on Harris Street,

Page 23
a little cottage with a front yard. And my father said, "How would you like to buy this place? I've just bought it, and I'll sell it to you for what it cost me." So they appreciated that, and began to give him more business.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did your father sell to him for business reasons, or . . . I mean, it seems unusual (as you say) for, at the time, a white man to sell real estate (prime real estate) to a black man.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he was out to make money (everything was to make money).
MIMI CONWAY:
Was he afraid of repercussions from the white community?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No. He was a fearless man, and he had great sympathy for the black people.
MIMI CONWAY:
And also Duke: was it unusual that a white man such as Duke would suggest setting a black man up in a business that later became one of the biggest in Durham?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No: anything to make money [laughter] , that was all right.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did Duke eventually get his money back from Merrick?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh yes, many times over.
[Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me more about this period of your life when you were at the Printery and interested in making money?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes; I saw that that wasn't my main like.
MIMI CONWAY:
No, wait a minute. [Interruption] I think what we were talking about is this period in your life when you knew the moneyed people. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I can tell you a lot about it. I just was sitting around the fringes, but I saw how insincere it was, and how everybody was scrambling to get something for himself. There was a man named Reuben Rink17 (that was his nom de plume) that lived at Kernersville. He had been Buck Duke's

Page 24
salesman; he'd been ordered to go all over the world, and paint signs on the pyramids and everywhere in sacred places. And he became quite famous: Reuben Rink.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you know him?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I knew his daughter, and nearly married her.
MIMI CONWAY:
Didn't you also know Bill Erwin's daughter Margaret? Bill Erwin, the man who headed the Erwin Cotton Mills?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. They were very snooty, and thought they were lords of the manor and everybody ought to bow down. She finally married a policeman in Charlotte.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you go to their house? Did you ever go to the Erwin mansion calling on the daughter?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I've been in the mansion.
MIMI CONWAY:
And did you meet Mr. Erwin?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I don't know; it was unimportant to me. I never had any love for him or any adoration. He was clean out of my world; he was part of the Dukes. And the other cotton mills and the Duke Power Company and all that stuff was simply to grind money out of people any way you could.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
[text missing]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Linotype had been invented, and their representative (I forget his name right now) came down from Brooklyn and sold my father one for ten thousand dollars—went in the hole for quite a while with payments. But meantime he turned out the type. And I hung around and watched the thing, and he put me to work on the machine; he thought that would be a good spot

Page 25
for me.
MIMI CONWAY:
On linotype?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
On linotype. It had a little dummy keyboard, and I practiced at night in my room and soon became proficient at it; it was interesting. And then he had a man from the factory that came down, and he was quite unscrupulous—I forget his name right now.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was it old man Whittaker? You were telling me about old man Whittaker, who was the chief typesetter, who wanted a union. Can you tell me about him?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Old man Whittaker was disgruntled and tired, and he'd worked hard all his life in a printing office. He needed a rest and he wasn't getting it; and he thought he ought to have more money and he wasn't getting it. And Henry Whittaker, his son, raised rabbits, and I bought rabbits from him and started me a rabbit hutch.
MIMI CONWAY:
Is old man Whittaker the one who wanted a union?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. He was one of the bosses of the union. So he had a quarrel with me; and this fat boy from an orphanage, he wanted him to take my place and run the linotype machine and get the advantage of it. And my father didn't want that to happen; he wanted me to have it. He bought the machine and paid ten thousand dollars; he ought to have a say-so—you can see how the clash . . . And then the strike came on very suddenly and violently. They withdrew and put these ribald signs on the door.
MIMI CONWAY:
What kind of signs did they put on the door?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, they drew them in the night, you know: "Old man Seeman and his boys are trying to run the town," and I don't know just what all. But pulling fun at him, you know. And he was a hard-working man.

Page 26
MIMI CONWAY:
What kind of wages was he paying them? What kind of wages was your father paying these people?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, he was paying good wages; he was paying full union scale.
MIMI CONWAY:
And how many people were working in the printery about then?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I reckon about fifty.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did they all go out on strike?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Not quite all, but a good deal of them.
MIMI CONWAY:
And what did your father do?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He put an ad in the Statesville paper, I think it was, saying he wanted all the hands that he could get (you know, good printers), and we would pay them good wages. And they began to come in; that's when that Robert Patterson came in. He was a good printer and he hung on for several years.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did your father lock the other workers out? Did your father have a lock-out?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Ok. And how did you feel about this strike in the Seeman printery?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I was mixed up. I was trying to straighten out my ideas of right and wrong. From our side that was right; everything we did was right, and everything they did was wrong. But from their side it was different.
MIMI CONWAY:
But did you feel angry at them? What were your own feelings?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, we'd been very friendly, and they'd come out to our house for Sunday dinner.
MIMI CONWAY:
The workers?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And then suddenly to turn against us, we didn't see the sense

Page 27
in that, but they did. They were bound by union rules.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you have strong angry feelings about it? I mean, did you feel they had wronged your father, or how did you feel?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, that's the difference: that's the clash between union and non-union, between right and wrong. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
How did you personally feel about unions at the time of the strike?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I dealt so largely in fantasy and romance and travel and books that I was kind of aloof from the rest. I wanted the whole thing; I figured I'd build a business and be socially inclined, and freeze them all out—one of those big mistakes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Because this is the period when you were interested in making money?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And it didn't work.
So I started a suit against my brothers, and got the same Bob Gant.
MIMI CONWAY:
The lawyer, your family lawyer.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And I figured that Bob Gant could buy them out. So after weeks and weeks he finally did, and got me twenty-two thousand dollars for my share. Then I invested it right away badly [laughter] —lost it all. Some printers in Raleigh heard about my tangle. In our new company, called Seeman and Blacklaw, there on Roxboro Street, I believe it was, I had a big sign painted "Seeman and Blacklaw"—I was after advertising, the art. I was very impractical.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was this at the point when the Dukes were beginning to expand the American Tobacco Company, and more and more business was leaving Durham, whereas before you had done a lot of their printing? Is this the time when Toms set up his own printery for the Dukes?

Page 28
ERNEST SEEMAN:
He threatened to move out when they wouldn't do like he wanted; he threatened to move out of Durham and carry it somewhere else. Then where would Durham be, if he was going to take all our Duke interest away? There was a lot of friction going on all the time, to make money. If we just had it all, I could do business.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me a little about when you were still a printer, and still in business but very dreamy? The strike at Erwin was going on; and did you tell me that you used to walk late at night after work and go over there and see the strikers, and see bonfires?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me a little about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
It was cold, and fires all around, and these strong men hob-knobbing and talking. They were valiant.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you go out of curiosity? Why did you go? Or did you feel sympathetic towards them? Why were you there?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
It's very clear in my mind, the fires and the reflections on the mill. That was something new for Durham; it was in all the papers, and the state papers. It was kind of like the Bolshevists' movement: it was something new for unions to be stepping out like Communists. In fact, they were tangled up a good deal, and still are. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you go many nights or many times to see the strikers at Erwin?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Not so many, but several, to see what was happening. And there was action going on, and there was a clash between two ideals: the worker and the big rich.
MIMI CONWAY:
What were your views to the strikers at this point? You had told me earlier about when there was a strike in your own company.

Page 29
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, that's when I began to admire Paul Robeson. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me a little more about Erwin?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I was told that this man was the key to the union in west Durham. And he said, "Yes. Come and have dinner with me at my factory, my little company shack where I live with my children and my wife." So I went there. He thought there would be eavesdroppers at his table. And he said, "Well, there's nothing that these people won't do to beat us down. They've bought this union out. The union has won, but they won't let them win. They're keeping them dangling by shoestrings to be sure they don't have any influence." And then he went out and stayed quite a while, and came back and said, "I wasn't sure but what you were a spy, and I went out to try out several letters to be sure you were Ernest Seeman, that you were who you say you were (because so much deceit goes on, and they'll do anything to beat us out)."
MIMI CONWAY:
Were you there to interview him for a story, or were you getting information as part of your own development?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Why were you there?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Then he explained that they really had no power; it was a powerless union, just in name only.
MIMI CONWAY:
Which union was it? Do you remember?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No, I don't; I didn't pay much attention. It was the cotton mill workers; it was organized into some union.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were you there to interview him for an article, or were you there to get information for yourself? Why were you talking with him?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I wanted to see how it was stacked up, see what progress they

Page 30
were making. It was satisfactory, and he did all he could do. But he followed me to the corner and said, "I've no power, and I'm afraid I never will have. They've got us sewed up in a bag, with every kind of crooked dealing. You can't expect us poor cotton mill workers that live in these shacks in poverty to have any power."
MIMI CONWAY:
Was this a period in your life when you were going through change yourself?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I think so: one of those periods—I've been through many, [laughter] many changes. Well, about this time I married Julia Henry; and those people, their ideals and mine were not the same. He had come up from the farm . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Her father?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . and was a skinflint moneylender.
MIMI CONWAY:
Her father was a moneylender?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Julia's grandfather. And he had two sons. One son, Bob Henry, had kowtowed to a man named Walker, I think, a tobacco buyer, and he had helped him to get him onto the Phillip Morris cigarettes. And he had a big fine house in East Orange, New Jersey (Bob Henry did).
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that her father at one time was Buck Duke's lead bookkeeper?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, he was chief bookkeeper. (He had them all graded). And he wanted more money (he wasn't getting enough); figured he could work more so he could get more somewhere else. So he told Mr. Duke, and he said, "I don't raise wages; when I think you're worth more to me I'll tell you." Meantime he fired him. And he went to somewhere in South Carolina; he had a little family then, and he had to support them. He said, "I can't live on

Page 31
this. I've got my girls to send to college." Right at the moment I don't remember the little town in South Carolina, but it'll come back to me some time.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did he become a tobacco importer after he left Duke? What is Mr. Henry's first name (Julia's father)? Do you remember?18
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, Julia's father had started a little export business. And he would buy cheap stuff (sweepings off the floor and all kinds of stuff) and sell it in Belgium and some other country where the poor people couldn't afford real cigarettes. And they smoked this trash export tobacco. He was making a pretty good living. He had a stemmery and used a lot of Negroes, and they went through the performance of stripping tobacco. And he had a man named Mr. Baldwin who was his overseer. Every Christmas Mr. Baldwin would send Mr. Henry (to curry his favor)—he represented some fish company in Norfolk on the side—a keg of oysters. Mr. Henry didn't especially care anything about oysters and know anything about them, and it was too much trouble opening them. So he would just have his man take them down in the garden and dump them in the ground and cover them up [laughter] to get rid of them.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me that at one point Mr. Henry19 was a man who had more ready cash than anyone in Durham?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. In his heyday he inherited some money from his skinflint father, and he could muster more cash than any man on Main Street.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did the Dukes ever borrow money from him?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, Washington Duke did.
MIMI CONWAY:
You were one of his sons-in-law; but I think you mentioned that his other son-in-law was a man named Arthur Ligon who headed the Arcadia Mills.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, Ligon cotton mills.

Page 32
MIMI CONWAY:
What was he like?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he was an awkward, fat, foxy-looking fellow, awkward in his talk. Everything was artificial. I can tell you a lot about Arthur Ligon He dropped dead at his country club—he went with all the rich, and organized the Saint Cecilia dances in Spartanburg for Easter, I think it was, or Christmas. He and his wife (Julia's sister, Cecilia) led the cotillions, and they were the upper class. And then he had a brother; I forget his name, but he was upper class too. He had big stock in mills. And they were always building new mills; they added them all around Spartanburg (I forget the names right now, but four or five at least).
MIMI CONWAY:
Was it before or after your marriage to Julia Henry that you became the head of Duke Press? Can you tell me how that came about?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, his girls had all gone to Converse to be socially trained, you know (how to enter a room, how to take a seat), and they knew all that stuff. They wouldn't make any faux pas on the unimportant things. But when it came to talking and thinking there wasn't a thought in that whole outfit. And it was really boring to sit around and hear Mr. Henry at night (poor fellow, that's all he knew: that's the life he had chosen, making money). And he'd tell about how few nickels he'd spent that day, all he'd saved.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were the Henrys old neighbors of Washington Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
The old man?
MIMI CONWAY:
Yes.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I think his name was Bob Henry.
MIMI CONWAY:
Had they been neighbors of Washington Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were they relatives of Washington Duke's?

Page 33
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I don't think they were relatives; they might have been.20
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you and your wife go visiting the Dukes ever?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh yes, every chance they got; they were swappers on the Dukes. The Dukes would invite them back and forth.
MIMI CONWAY:
How about you and Julia? Did you and Julia go to the Dukes' house or houses?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. In New York City on our honeymoon Julia insisted that I go to see Mrs. Ben Duke and invite her to lunch (we would pay for it) at the Vanderbilt Hotel. And we did . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you become head of the Duke Press after you were married to Julia? Tell me about when you became head of the Duke Press, and how that came about.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I had a nervous breakdown. I had made a bad adventure and lost out in the printing business, and had a bad breakdown. And my [her] people were very kind; they [the Henrys] had a place called "Cool Cove" eleven miles out from Asheville, and it was a good place for Bill, our boy. They were very fond of Bill; he was the only grandchild they'd had in several generations, the only male heir. And Mr. Henry doted on him, and did the right thing by him: he sent him to Carolina. And then one morning (he liked to bird hunt) in October he decided to go out bobwhite hunting. [Interruption]
Well, my brother Wallace, he wanted to get rid of me out of the printery anyway. I was in the way; I wasn't doing him any good. So I'd had a lawsuit with him and lost four thousand dollars. Ernst and Ernst took about six months to carry out the suit and inspect the business and go through the ledger. I was trying to find where he had taken out more than his share. He had raised his salary and all that—well, I don't blame him: he was doing

Page 34
the work and carrying the business on. I wasn't doing a thing constructive, and I was unfitted for that kind of business. I was off in the woods and camping and canoeing and writing and drawing; our talents ran in different directions. He was a hard-headed businessman. He had learned the printing figure business to where he could make money and make it pay. [Interruption]
So my brother Wallace was down at the Seeman Printery, and he got to talking with Professor Flowers, vice-president of Duke University. And he said, "In building up our organization we're going to need a man to head up the Duke Press, and it looks to me like Ernest would be just about the man. He's scholarly, and he's had a lot of experience in reading (different from you boys), travel." He said, "See what he thinks. Send him to see me." So I went to see him, and he said, "Yes, we do need a man." He said, "We'll take you on at half-time; we won't give you a full-time job, but we'll take you off half-time." I said, "I don't work half-time for anything." I took the job and began to organize it. And they gave me a little room by some old mathmatics professor's den. He came back in and wanted his place back, and I said, "Sorry, we haven't got room for anybody else." (He'd been head of a high school, Duke High School). "We're going to need all the space we've got, Professor He'd been my teacher in the Trinity Park High School; I'd been there for a while.21 . . .
[text missing]
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Do you want me to tell about the meeting on Ivy Mountain?
MIMI CONWAY:
Sure. What's the meeting on Ivy Mountain? Was that the Hiking Club?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.

Page 35
MIMI CONWAY:
OK.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I had a place on Ivy Mountain, the highest place in the county, overlooking Flat River. Had a beautiful view down the river; it was called Ivy Mountain.
MIMI CONWAY:
Tell me about when you brought the students out there, and the Hiking Club.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
In other words, I loved outdoors, and I'd had a lot of outdoors. I was an outdoors man, and I believe in enjoying nature. I've been going for natural history since I was a little fellow with the red-headed woodpecker business. [Interruption] I had something natural and wholesome, and I was getting it organized.
MIMI CONWAY:
This is the Hiking Club on Ivy Mountain.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
So I went to see Dean Wannamaker, this old narrow-minded South Carolina man who hated me. And he was all for authority; nothing could be done without his authority. He told me a story about one time at Vassar he called on a young lady, and she asked him to sit on the bed. He said, "When I come down to where I have to sit on the bed in a girl's room, I just won't come." He was a prude. He was finally married and had several children.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was he concerned about your hiking club?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. I went to see Ms. Baldwin [Interruption] . . . the Erwin Mills strike.
MIMI CONWAY:
You were talking about Dean Wannamaker and your Hiking Club.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I called on Ms. Baldwin. [the Dean of Women, Alice Mary Baldwin] I said, "Ms. Baldwin, I think this is the dullest place I've ever been in." "Why, what do you mean?" "Well, it just is: nothing here but prayer meetings and football." (They had a big stadium by that time that cost a million dollars, for big games—which

Page 36
didn't interest me at all.) And she said, "Well, what do you suggest?" I said, "Well, I'll tell you in a day or two." So I sent out printed invitations to come to a watermelon feast on Ivy Mountain, and how to get there (and there'd be guides to meet you at Tilley's Store at Bahama that would take you up through the woods). So I had the students (they loved that, you know—they were getting some action); they went out. And one crowd was building the tressels to put the watermelons on; another one was buying the beefsteaks and the watermelons. That was an October night, and the moon was shining. We started up about sundown, an old great horned owl hooting; and that was thrilling, you know, to them. You have imagination, but they didn't—I mean, some of them. The old timers, the Wannamakers, they didn't have any imagination.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you go out on these hiking trips often?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, went practically every week, and holidays. We'd had a place for then, and then appointed a committee. They named the Explorers Club.22 They sat around and suggested names, and they named it the Explorers Club. I think it's named after one of the Beebes down in the West Indies.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did some of the faculty come to the hiking?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh yes. Invited all the good Deans, and oh, I guess we had fifty go up on the mountain. [Interruption]
Well, I had made contacts with all the brainest people in the new Duke. They were bringing in new people all the time, and I'd make a point to cultivate them. And Julia would too; she liked to go on these hikes, take lunches.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was Justin Miller there?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And then the students suggested that we spread it out more

Page 37
and have one spring meeting at the coast and one fall meeting at the mountains, which we did. We'd line up cars and have them organize a hike. And then every weekend, nearly (about every ten days or two weeks), we'd have a little committee to go out and investigate interesting sites around in our county. [Interruption]
Well, Buck Duke had organized this big university to make his daughter Doris the richest girl in the world, to set up the Duke dynasty, in which three sarcophagi would be lined up: Washington Ďuke in the middle, and Buck Duke and Ben Duke. They're there now in the church . . . [Interruption]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I was on good terms with Mrs. Few. She was natural, had several children. And she often would see me on the campus and would invite me to supper at the president's house, and I would go. [William Preston Few] Few and I would get in an argument; we were diametrically opposed on education. He was everything for the established, and I wasn't. I'd combat him. Then he suddenly appeared at one of the meetings . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Of the Hiking Club.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . and he said, "Well, I'm a walker. You don't realize that. See my long legs; they haven't fallen to rot. Mr. Ben Duke told me one summer to take Angier, his boy, out and climb Pike's Peak (he wanted him to get used to walking). And I did, and we walked all the way up Pike's Peak. You think I'm just a sissy, but I'm not a sissy: I can walk. I've done a lot of walking in my life." So we pretended to be glad to have him, but he was in the way. But he was observing, of course, to see how radical we were getting; he knew my radical talk around his table [laughter] . I was miles in advance of him socially.

Page 38
Buck Duke had appointed him when he organized the Duke Foundation to teach certain things where he could approach the people most. And he had all the leading munitioneers and cooks in high business on the Duke Foundation. I forget them right now, but you could be in steel and everything (cotton mills), and he'd organized them to function. Then he had a chaplain that preached and wore his surplices and all.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who was the chaplain?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I forget his name.
MIMI CONWAY:
Oh, that's OK; it doesn't matter. You were telling me about president Few; and he observed what you were doing, and what the meetings were like at the Explorers Club. What happened after that, after he came to the meeting? Was there any repercussion?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, he didn't raise any particular hell. But two of the girl students who were very bright suggested we write a—oh, what do you call things where you make fun of people?
MIMI CONWAY:
A parody.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
A parody. So they appointed me to get it done [laughter] . And we took all kinds of secret measures, and I had them printed in Baltimore. Had them mailed in Raleigh; a certain girl went down there and spent the afternoon in the hotel addressing them all, so they couldn't identify her in the post office. Nobody knew about that except a few people like Dean Miller; he knew about it. We were aiming to make him president, of course; he would have made a real president. He trained supreme court executives.
MIMI CONWAY:
He was the head of the Law School at Duke? Dean Miller was?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.

Page 39
[Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you go to Baltimore?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No, I didn't need to. I knew somebody there, a printer; told him I wanted to get it out. "A Vision of King Paucus" is what it was called. When I first saw it it came to the Express office in a bundle, and was delivered to me. Then they were released early one morning, mailed down in the post office. And oh, what a furor when all these parodies were turned loose and began to break around the campus; some of them were selling for as high as five dollars apiece. And then somebody else started printing copies.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were there many copies printed, and were they circulated to the students or to faculty?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I just don't know how many we had printed. It was probably twenty-five hundred or five thousand. And they were picking them up all over the campus and saving them—big excitement. They were wondering who wrote it and where it came from, what it had to do with the Explorers Club. Anyhow we got it over, we got it addressed and we got it mailed. And as soon as it would get in the mail they were breaking them open by the dozens, and somebody else was printing more to sell; that's "The Vision of King Paucus."23 And oh, were they angry; boy, they were just burned up. They called this old fat thing Dwire24 (fifteen feet from butt to butt, I think).
MIMI CONWAY:
Who is Dwire?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Henry R. Dwire, who was taking my place.
MIMI CONWAY:
Oh, right: head of the press.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And they called Flowers "Prince Blossom;" he was well-dressed.
MIMI CONWAY:
The vice-president of Duke University.

Page 40
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And Few was "King Paucus." And some student had come to Duke going through trying to find an education; he wanted to know where he could find any education. And they sent him to all kinds of odd places where there was no education; it was all just sham and show. Oh, it burned them up. Then Miller's assistant professor of law (don't matter what his name was; he's probably dead now, maybe), I had his boy to summer camp up in the mountains (Glenville or somewhere). And I gave him some doubtful marks about his possibilities, and that burned his father up. So he had a big dinner party; we suddenly got an invitation from Mr. and Mrs. fascinating somebody to come to their fine home to a dinner party. And they had a big horseshoe table, and had turkey and everything. [laughter] Then the whole secret of the whole dinner party was released (it wasn't meant to be). But just as we were putting on our overcoats this turncoat professor said, "Do you think they'll ever (he told me especially) catch this fellow that wrote this lampoon?" I said, "No, I don't think so." And he said he knew from that time that I had something to do with it; I was too confident. They questioned different ones; oh, I reckon they questioned fifty people.
But he got the job; when Miller was fired he succeeded to the job. That's what he wanted.
MIMI CONWAY:
Why was Miller fired?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, we had breakfast over at my house on Seeman Street, and Miller and Dr. McDougall, the big psychologist, and various big lights in Duke would come to them; and we'd talk over how to get rid of Few and how to get a real president like Miller. One meeting we had Dr. McDougall was sitting at my table, and suddenly a little boy came running up and said, "Mister, your big English car has dumped down into the bottom." And he said,

Page 41
"Too much toddy, I guess." He was a big, handsome, intelligent man, and he was all for Miller: he saw that he would be a real wool-beater, and these others were just munitions manufacturers and war-makers.
MIMI CONWAY:
Now Miller also went to your Explorers Club, didn't he?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, he was a big man on the Explorers Club. He was the one that night in the moonlight who gave me a twenty dollar bill and said, "Organize it." The old owl was hooting and the moon shining. They said, "Why can't we keep this up?" And then Miller said, "Let's do it. Here's twenty dollars: organize it." He was a good mind.
When he was fired at Duke he got fifty thousand dollars' salary from the big central baseball overseeing organization.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me while he was at Duke he made a higher salary than president Few?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. He was getting fifteen thousand and Few was getting about twelve. And then when he was fired he got fifty thousand dollars.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were you fired shortly after Miller? Did you and Miller get fired about the same time? Or can you tell me about when you left Duke Press?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, I didn't get fired for quite a long while. I stayed on to build up the Duke Press. We were doing good, and we had agencies in all the principal foreign cities and connections. I went to New York a time or two to attend the meetings of Frank Scribner and various ones; I met all these publishers up there. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
We were talking about the lampoon. Can you tell me more about what was going on on the campus?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Following right on the heels of the cotton mill strike . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
At Erwin?

Page 42
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . and the bonfires, Few called me to his office and got me cornered. He said, "Now I've been knowing you a long time;" after we had it out he said, "I don't want to do anything to you. I'll just go in the next room, and you just write down the name of the students, and you'll never hear anything about it." I said, "I'd be hanged first."
MIMI CONWAY:
What students did he want you to write down?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
The ones that had written . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
The parody.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
The Paucus thing.
MIMI CONWAY:
OK. Now, was it after King Paucus came out that there were . . . Can you tell me more about the student uprising at Duke, and how it was connected with Erwin?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. I was sick at Mr. Henry's house with the grippe or something, upstairs, my wife waiting on me. And "Wilkie,"25 the newsman in the news department, he was a good friend (he's recently died; he got way too fat); and he came around to my bedside to tell me what was going on.
MIMI CONWAY:
What was going on? Can you describe it?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Few was suspecting me and maybe him (he'd been in it too).
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you tell me about the student uprising?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. So it happened while I was sick, but that didn't do any good; they figured I was in back of it (I was the prominent radical). And nobody had ever done that before.
MIMI CONWAY:
Done what before? The bonfires? [Interruption]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, it came out in the Raleigh paper: "Student Revolution at Duke." And the director of public relations, Dwire had gone to Florida

Page 43
for a vacation. And oh, he was so angry; he had to come tearing back to see about this student revolution at Duke and to downgrade it, you know (that it wasn't so . . . ) And Wilke (the newsman) came to see me at Mr. Henry's and sat by my bedside and told what all was going on. He was chortling with glee; he was glad to see it.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did he see of the student rebellion at Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he'd been in touch; see, he was one of the newsmen in the news office. It all went through his hands what was happening. That was the talk for quite a while [laughter].
MIMI CONWAY:
But can you tell me about it? Can you tell me what was going on? You mentioned earlier that this happened right after the strike at Erwin Mills.26 Can you tell me about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, it was undoubtedly inspired by that; they saw the workers rising up, and they figured the students were going to rise up.
MIMI CONWAY:
What did the students do?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Wrote the parody. They wrote it; they sent it off and had it printed; they circulated it.
MIMI CONWAY:
But did you also say that there were bonfires? What else was going on on the campus at this time?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, sure; they had bonfires. And that's when Few got me up in the corner in his office and told me to write down the names. And I said I'd be hanged first and went out.
MIMI CONWAY:
Were there strikes? Or how were the students revolting? They wrote the parody; what else did they do? [Interruption]
Can you tell me about how it was that you left Duke?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, one morning this big old tub of guts, Henry R. Dwire, he

Page 44
phoned me to come to his office—he was very peremptory. So I went to his office. I feared something was going to happen: he'd been collecting evidence on me. He and Flowers had surprised me in my office one morning (barged in very suddenly). The door was closed, but they opened it and busted in. And I was busy writing. [laughter] I had my office well-organized so Exie Duncan and Manly Dunn could do the shipping. That ought to be mentioned somewhere . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
You were talking about how it was you left Duke; can you tell about that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. He phoned me to come to his office.
MIMI CONWAY:
Dwire or Flowers?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Over right there he had a little table about this big.
MIMI CONWAY:
Who did?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Dwire. And he had it right in front of him—he was going to play cat and mouse. And he had a letter; he said, "Read this letter." He set him down about as far as from here to there (that's you and this is me), and he laid the letter on the table. He wanted to enjoy the victory. So I read it, and looked him in the eye. And I said, "I'm not afraid," and went away.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
ERNEST SEEMAN:
"Today the Duke Press will be discontinued; and Captain Rivera (he was a military man, but a member of the Explorers Club) will be in charge." [Interruption]
This didn't end the Press. Today they have a (I forget who it is) regular press man with a separate building and everything, that's come out of that.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you go to his house after this? Tell me about his house?

Page 45
Where did you go after you left the Press?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I took a long trip; I was a long walker in those days.
[Interruption]
And Captain Rivera was a nice personable man; the students liked him. He was a military man; and they figured that he would be the boy they'd pick for this job, and get rid of this old radical.
MIMI CONWAY:
You. In other words, Rivera took your place at the Duke Press? OK. So, when you left, where did you go? When you left Duke Press, what happened to you?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, I went to see this old Italian, and he said, "You go across the road. Here's a key to the place; I've got an old haybarn over there, a house I use to store hay in, and you can have it. Reroof it if you can, because it's leaking and full of rats." [laughter] That's a good story. "You can have that for your house this winter; it'll give you a shelter. It's got a fireplace." So I thanked him and beat it across the road and discovered the place. I sat down to have supper in my kitchen, and there were thirteen big rats stuck their heads out of the wall. I gave them all names, and they figured in the story. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
Were you with your wife when you were at this house?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
She said she wanted her divorce. Martin Spills, I believe it is, is the fellow I used to run around to with dances; and we'd date up together. We were good friends, but now he was our lawyer to separate us. And it didn't take long to separate us.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was it connected with your leaving Duke that she was interested in getting a divorce?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Sure: she had no salary. And her father was advising her.

Page 46
MIMI CONWAY:
How long did you stay in that Italian man's house? Were you writing there, or what were you doing?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Oh, I had adventures out there.
MIMI CONWAY:
I know you had adventures all your life! But how long did you stay there? And then, could you tell me about when you left there, what you did next?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I stayed quite a while—several weeks at least. And I would walk to town. One night the students (Duke students) told me they were having a party; they invited me to come, and I went. I sat down (it was a play) and turned around and looked, and the first people I saw were Dr. Frank C. Brown and Mrs. Ben Duke sitting up there in a niche. And oh, they looked daggers at me; but I held my ground. I had on boots. I was the hero of the students.
MIMI CONWAY:
Then did you go to New York? Did you stay around that place for a year, or only a few weeks.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
An old friend of mine, a canoemate, Neil Fossie (had been in my wedding) came by to see me at the farm, to intercede for Julia and try to get us back together. And I said, "I'm not going back together, Neil." And I said, "You owe me some money; how about paying me on long terms." He said, "Well, I think I can arrange that." He got me some money (I forget just how much—a thousand dollars, anyhow).
Then I went down to see an old man I lived on formerly. He lived in a cabin, and his poor wife needed hospital treatment. They were hard up; and I bought a counterpane or something from her that she had made, and bought blackberries and stuff.
I had this money from Neil, and I told him to come down that afternoon

Page 47
or the next day, because I was going to New York on a big train. I was going into new adventure in the Village, Greenwich Village. So I went over in the slums on the East Side and was poking around to see what I could find, and I found a little one-story hotel. Oh, I think it was twenty-five cents a night, or some low price. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
You were telling me about people you met in New York, people who were influential and important in your life in New York. Did you tell me that you met, like, the Scott Nearings, and that you met Elizabeth?27
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Came a knock on my door, and that was Elizabeth's brother-in-law, Godfrey. And he was a big man in the Duke Foundation—a big man. They didn't pay him much; he was just a servant, but he had his duties in the Duke Foundation. And he said, "I heard from the Duke Foundation that you'd left Duke, and I wanted to come over. I've been reading your magazine (I take it) . . .
MIMI CONWAY:
Character and Personality.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
. . . and I came over to meet you and tell you I've been enjoying your magazine Character and Personality."
MIMI CONWAY:
Is that how you met Elizabeth?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
And she had a big old cat (I forget his name now; she'll know all about that) and a big yellow dress. Some of that's kind of hazy. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
I wanted to ask you a little bit about Tumbling Creek,28 where you've spent since the nineteen forties. You were going to tell me about that: about Tumbling Creek, and about you and Elizabeth, and your working. Do you remember anything about Tumbling Creek, about the house that you worked in, and where you did your writing for the last thirty years?

Page 48
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, that's where some natural history comes in.
MIMI CONWAY:
Can you remember the house you worked in? When did you write? Did you write in the daytime or the nighttime? Can you tell me a little bit about that: how you worked at Tumbling Creek?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
My naturalist friend T. Gilbert Pearson, who with Maria Audubon started the Audubon Society and was given twenty-five thousand dollars a year, had a great influence on the young people. [Interruption]
MIMI CONWAY:
I just heard of your living in Tumbling Creek, which is a very wild, isolated, beautiful place. You could do it well because you had been a naturalist since you were a child. Did you say that you went to England when you were thirteen on a sailing vessel?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I went hunting birds and more experience. I wanted to get to sea.
MIMI CONWAY:
You wanted to look at birds and study them: that's what you mean by hunting them, right?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you meet a little girl when you were there?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes; that's interesting. At Stratford-on-Avon I went into Shakespeare's burial place (cost about fifty cents, I think). And there was a little girl from Massachusetts; I never even learned her name, never even inquired her name front or back. She was crying outside his burial place; she had lost her ticket. So I had some money, and I advanced it to her. And we went in. And all out in the churchyard they buried them under the flagstones, so you'd walk over them and think of death. And there were bones sticking out of the walls—they buried them in the walls. That was an adventure. And we were together all afternoon.

Page 49
MIMI CONWAY:
How old was she?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
She was about my age.
MIMI CONWAY:
About twelve or thirteen?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. Her parents were broad-minded people, and they'd sent her to England with money and all to wander around, like I was doing.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you think of traveling together? If she was wandering around and you were wandering around, did you think about traveling together?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
No, I don't think so. I wasn't interested in her as a girl; I was just interested in Avon, the river.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did you tell me once that you worked [Samuel Pierpont] Langley, who helped invent the airplane? Could you tell me about working with the buzzards, and how that happened?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. The first time I met Langley it didn't stick. He was a very crusty man, very particular—he never took his coat off, and worked at the drawing board with a high stiff collar. That was strange. And I wrote the article up for the South Atlantic Quarterly.
MIMI CONWAY:
I want to know when you worked for him. How old were you when you worked for him? Were you a young boy?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, I worked all summer.
MIMI CONWAY:
About how old were you? Do you remember?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, he didn't get interested in me until the naturalist, T. Gilbert Pearson (who started the Audubon Society) came up to Washington. He introduced me to Langley, and he said, "Well, this is the very boy I want for my buzzard boy. Write your father and tell him you want to work for me up here, and I'll give you a job all summer." So my father consented. And he took me out to the Biological Park.

Page 50
MIMI CONWAY:
In Washington, D.C.?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
In Washington, where Ernest Thompson Seaton did a lot of his drawing. And they had antelopes and things out there, and a baby hippopotamus.
MIMI CONWAY:
And what did you do as the buzzard boy?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
All right, that's easy to remember. I stayed filthy dirty all the time and stunk like a polecat. He had two or three towers (three, I believe) as high as a tall tree, and in there . . . You see, photography was very slow: they didn't have any fast shutters, they didn't have any motors. A lot of things hadn't been invented.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was this before the turn of the century?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
It was about nineteen hundred, I think.
It had a little sleeping hut for me to sleep in (kind of like the sailors use). And I don't think I ever washed; stayed filthy. He'd want to try out a certain type of vulture: it might be the big vulture from the Andes, or it might be the turkey buzzard (that was his favorite) and the black vulture. And I'd put the thing under my arm, and on the outside go up some kind of steps. And then I would dump this buzzard in a hole; the tower was truncated, and they had a hole in the middle. I'd drop the buzzard in the middle. And then he'd puke all over me and I'd stink worse than ever. But I didn't think of that.
MIMI CONWAY:
Did Langley photograph the pattern of the buzzard flying as part of his preliminary work in inventing the airplane?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Langley was an old man (72), and I was thirteen.
MIMI CONWAY:
Was it before or after you went to England, do you remember?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
It must have been before.
MIMI CONWAY:
Why was he dropping the buzzards in the tower?

Page 51
ERNEST SEEMAN:
To have slow photographers on shelves inside the tower photograph them. That's the only cameras they had then was still cameras. And from there he got a lot of pictures of buzzard wings: the buzzard dropping, spreading his wings trying to right himself. It gave him a lot of good ideas. Then he was going to run it by steam (they had no motors in those days): Langley's Steam Aerodrome.
MIMI CONWAY:
Ernest, we don't have much more room on the tape. Can I ask you about Tumbling Creek, because I felt that your early years you were such a naturalist, and it was something that you'd had from your earliest years. And then in your later years, the last thirty years you spent out in a very beautiful wild place called Tumbling Creek. I was hoping that you could describe this just a little, for people who wouldn't have the opportunity of knowing what this beautiful place looked like or was like. And a little bit about how you worked when you were there—because, of course, a lot of your work has been writing this beautiful masterpiece Tobacco Town.
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, T. Gilbert Pearson took issue with me. He said there were no some kind of woodpeckers in this region; and I said I knew there were, because I'd go to my back door and there they would be drumming away. And it was so: I had seen them there and heard them.
MIMI CONWAY:
Ernest, what is it like where you did your work these last several years? Did you work at nighttime? Could you tell me a little bit about your work habits?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I worked at nighttime.
. . . [Interruption]

Page 52
MIMI CONWAY:
What was the house like that you worked in?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
I'm trying to remember it. I'd open the back door and you'd be right out in the woods. You'd hear the water tumbling.
MIMI CONWAY:
Is this the house that is the same size as the one Thoreau worked in, that's ten feet by twelve feet? Do you remember that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
It wasn't very big; I guess that was it.
MIMI CONWAY:
Do you remember why you built it like that?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Well, it was cold weather, and I wanted to be snug. You keep warmer, use less wood—I believe I had a fireplace, didn't I?
MIMI CONWAY:
I'm not sure. So have you spent a good many of the last several years writing on your novel? Do you want to tell me a little about that? At night when you were writing, were you mostly working on Tobacco Town?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Let me think. Yes, yes, I do remember.
MIMI CONWAY:
And did you write until daybreak?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes. I spent thirty years on that novel; I concentrated hard on it. That's why I went up there at sundown.
MIMI CONWAY:
And did you spend the night there and work all night, and then come back down to yours and Elizabeth's cabin at daybreak?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes.
MIMI CONWAY:
Is it a beautiful place? Can you describe Tumbling Creek to me? Is it out in the woods?
ERNEST SEEMAN:
Yes, it's out in the woods, and birds all around.
MIMI CONWAY:
The birds that you've loved all your life, I guess.
END OF INTERVIEW
1. Henry Ernest Seeman was born in 1861 and died in 1917.
2. Here Ernest switches to talking about his grandfather.
3. Ernest didn't hear me. John Seeman is his uncle.
The Story of Durham, City of the New South
Ibid
The Dukes of Durham, 1865-1929
7. On p. 1 of this interview, Ernest Seeman refers to his mother as a "poor country girl" and on p. 3 as "a raw country girl," yet her father was a slave owner and ruling elder in the church. On April 27, 1976, in further interviewing with Ernest, he said his mother's father was a good farmer and had made money but later lost it. He reiterated that they were good farming people
8. At the University of North Carolina.
9. On April 27, 1976, in further interviewing, Ernest said he had a seventh grade education. He returned to high school for a time, but he does not remember how long.
The Dukes of Durham, 1865-1929
11. Ernest wrote about Toms in a private, published, undated pamphlet, "The Tobacco Water Power Monopoly and the Public Schools; Occasional Political Papers—E. Seeman." (See Ernest Seeman Subject File, Robert Lee Flowers Papers.)
12. William P. Henry
13. Ernest was 30 in 1917 when his father died.
The Dukes of Durham
The Story of Durham, City of the New South
ibid.
History of the Town of Durham, North Carolina
18. William P. Henry is Julia's father.
19. He is talking about Julia Henry's grandfather, also Bob Henry, who is the moneylender.
20. When asked about this earlier, Ernest said the Henrys and the Dukes were just neighbors, not relatives, although the Henrys would like to have been.
21. Ernest did not recall the name of this high school teacher. Ernest completed seventh grade, attended some high school but does not remember how much, and did not graduate from high school.
The Explorers Club
23. Paucus is Latin for "few."
24. Dwire was head of the Publicity Department at Duke Univ.
25. Albert "Wilke" Wilkinson.
TimeThe Durham SunDurham Herald
27. Elizabeth Brickel Klinger, who became Ernest's second wife, met him in in New York during the early days of the Depression. Godfrey Klinger was her first husband's brother.
28. After being married in Chicago, where Elizabeth found work as a greeting card illustrator, the couple moved to an isolated spot called Tumbling Creek in Tennessee just before World War II.