Duke University, Durham, NC 27708. (919) 684-8111.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, West Campus, Duke University. (919) 684-3698.
Nasher Museum of Art, 2001 Campus Drive, Durham, NC 27705. (919) 684-0700.
Duke University Primate Center, 3705 Erwin Road, Durham, NC 27705. (919) 489-3364.
Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum, 2828 Duke Homestead Road, Durham, NC 27705. (919) 477-5498.
Bennett Place State Historic Site, 4409 Bennett Memorial Road, Durham, NC 27705. (919) 383-4345.
It turns out there are other things just as certain as death and taxes.
Basketball fever in North Carolina, for instance.
When March rolls around, that means National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college basketball playoffs are under way. Sixty-five teams make it into the national tournament. Most of the time, storied rivals Duke University and the University of North Carolina are among them.
We visited Duke during a quieter period, when the basketball season was just getting started. One of America's most beautiful campuses (okay, that's my prejudiced opinion), it includes a Georgian-style East Campus and the very imposing Gothic architecture of the newer West Campus.
The East Campus dates to 1887, when Trinity College moved from its more rural location to Durham. In 1924, James Buchanan Duke donated $40 million, and the school was renamed in honor of his father. Shortly thereafter, construction began on the West Campus, using stone from a Duke-owned quarry at nearby Hillsborough.
Duke Chapel, on the West Campus, is the college's most recognizable landmark, that is, after the legions of blue-painted faces on students attending the Blue Devil basketball games.
With its tower soaring 210 feet into the air, it anchors the West Campus. Any visit to the university should include time in the chapel.
The Sarah Duke Gardens, covering 55 acres, is one of those wonderful public spaces that any school would want in its environs. Impressive stone terracing, garden cottages, ponds and small streams create a landscape notable for its rose gardens and one of the largest collections of plants native to the southeastern United States. Twenty acres are dedicated to Asian varieties.
Amidst all this is the South Lawn, a popular student gathering spot. There, in 1973, I experienced a total eclipse of the sun. It's still one of my most memorable single experiences.
For a touch of modernity amidst classicism, consider the Nasher Museum of Art. Along with its own holdings, the galleries host major touring exhibitions. During our visit, we sampled an impressive offering of 17th-century Spanish work.
Within the nearby Duke Forest (oh, yes, I forgot — the school has more than 7,000 acres of woods for strolling and jogging) sits the Primate Center. Here lives one of the world's largest collections of lemurs, those unique primates that live naturally only on the island of Madagascar.
After an introductory talk, we split into small groups. In the nocturnal house, we saw a rare aye-aye. Endangered because it is seen as a sign of bad luck in its homeland, the aye-aye has a 6-inch-long third fingernail with which it taps on trees looking for hollow spots likely to contain insects.
Diurnal species include some that played to the crowd. Most memorable were six ringtailed lemurs perched together, their tails upright in what almost appeared to be a salute.
TWO BLIND MULES
Yes, there's more for the tourist to see in Durham besides Duke University.
Tobacco dates back to the Aztecs and Mayans but grew apace in the American South. At the end of the Civil War, North Carolina landowner Washington Duke walked home 100 miles to resume farming. He soon decided prosperity might better lie with processing tobacco rather than simply growing it.
From an unpromising start with 50 cents and two blind mules, he went on to make his fortune. Initially, he manufactured snuff and chewing tobacco, first under the ironic brand name Pro Bono Publico (for the good of the public). Cigarettes were for "sissies" before Washington Duke entered the field. Soon, however, Duke's American Tobacco Company grew into one of the trusts, like Standard Oil, that Teddy Roosevelt broke up during his campaign against monopolies in American industry.
The Duke Homestead State Historic Site commemorates the economic impact of tobacco. Without inhaling a single puff of smoke, one gets to learn how smoking became such a force in the world. Two of Duke's early "factories" are on the grounds.
Burns Jones guided us through these two 1870s curing barns and demonstrated how dried tobacco leaves were stripped then flailed into pieces tiny enough to be rolled into cigarettes. For years, that rolling was done by hand, before invention of the first commercially successful machine.
The tour continued with Duke's 1852 white clapboard farmhouse, furnished in period style. A spittoon at the hearth reminded tobacco chewers not to expectorate into the fire.
Early chewing tobacco molds are on exhibit, along with an 1881 cigarette rolling machine. There's considerable information on the work involved in growing tobacco. A mechanized mannequin narrates the 13 months of work that go into producing each year's crop. My wife, Marty, who grew up with such tasks as priming and curing, confirmed the accuracy of the descriptions.
Washington Duke also pioneered marketing and advertising practices that are now commonplace. Along with early posters are sports trading cards that began as tobacco premiums. Historic Site video stations play television commercials.
CIVIL WAR SURRENDER
At Bennett Place Historic Site, just outside Durham, we learned from a short video and displays in the visitor center about the life of a rural farmer and the impact of the Civil War on North Carolina.
Artifacts range from early homeopathy kits to a cubby-hole-laden army field desk to the tags and shackles of slavery. On a walking tour, we passed by reconstructions of Bennett Place and several outbuildings, including the kitchen and the hewn log smokehouse.
North Carolina escaped some of the worst ravages of the Civil War. However, it was at the Bennett home that the largest surrender of Confederate soldiers took place.
Just weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee declared a truce with Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and General Joseph Johnston agreed to negotiate an end to hostilities. They convinced the Bennett family to loan them their farmhouse for negotiations. Subsequently, more than 89,000 southerners laid down their arms. Sherman and Johnston, meanwhile, became lifelong friends.
That process of surrender, by the way, may have been more orderly than the typical Duke-Carolina basketball game. To those schools, the national championship plays second fiddle to the battle for supremacy of this 10-mile stretch of North Carolina Piedmont. At this writing, both are ranked in the nation's Top Ten, not an uncommon occurrence. Stay tuned!
E-mail Richard Frost at: firstname.lastname@example.org