This is the final story in a series about life in Haywood County in 1969.
From a proposed blue law to an unusual birth and a tragic death, to a milk war, there were plenty of gripping stories in Haywood County five decades ago.
James and Glenda Messer, along with a community that was stricken by a tragedy, saw a miracle happen with the birth Jerry Lee Messer of Waynesville.
Glenda Messer was nine months pregnant when she became alarmed by a spate of robberies on Dellwood Road, which was near her home. She asked her husband to buy a gun for protection, which he did.
The couple headed upstairs to bed, and Glenda Messer remembered the gun was left in the kitchen, The Waynesville Mountaineer reported. She asked her husband to go get it.
When James came back upstairs, he dropped the gun, it fired and a bullet struck Glenda in the right leg. The bullet traveled upward and lodged in her abdomen. She was treated at Haywood County Hospital, where it was discovered the bullet had hit the baby in the head.
Jerry Lee, was born two days later, and was taken to Memorial Mission in Asheville. Doctors there said it would be best to wait to remove the bullet until the baby was stronger since the bullet was doing no active harm.
Two weeks later, an Asheville neurosurgeon was planning to make an incision in the left side of Jerry Lee’s head where the bullet had lodged after entering through his right temple, but X-rays revealed the bullet was unattached. Surgeons ultimately made an incision near the entrance wound and kept gently twisting and turning the baby until the bullet exited through the same path it entered.
Doctors reported that such an injury would have likely killed an adult and could not explain why the baby appeared to be doing so well. One doctor speculated that since the .32 caliber pistol bullet had struck the baby while he was in the womb, it served as a natural incubator as the child was supported by his mother.
Doctors said side effects from the injury may not be known until the child was older but noted the external signs appeared positive.
Shoppers were the beneficiaries of a spring milk war as retail grocers in the county engaged in a bitter war over which store could attract the most shoppers by offering bargain-basement prices for milk.
The war started in early March with Blaylock’s Grocery in Pigeon Valley, which cut its price for milk to avoid losing customers to Asheville, where a similar war was waging.
By mid-month, four of the eight largest stores in Waynesville and Hazelwood joined in to offer all brands of milk for 95 cents a gallon instead of the standard $1.30 a gallon. There was a limit of two gallons per customer.
The milk prices, and the milk war, nabbed a front page story with merchants discussing the advisability of selling milk at a profit or risk losing customers since all shoppers needed to buy milk and low prices were what brought them in the store.
Participating stores included Ray’s, Winn-Dixie, Ensley’s Superette and Ralph’s Cash Gocery. Waynewood soon followed.
A&P and Smathers Supermarket in Canton stayed out of war initially. But as the price war extended into April, Canton merchants joined in, with Clyde stores being the only nonparticipants.
Week after week, grocery ads prominently featured the bargain milk prices, 93 cents a gallon, 49 cents a half gallon.
There was no news story on the war’s conclusion, but by the end of May, there were no ads for cheap milk. Bargain prices on ice milk seemingly followed, but didn’t elicit a news story.
A group of merchants petitioned Waynesville leaders to pass a “blue law,” an ordinance that would restrict retail sales inside the town limits on Sundays.
The ordinance wouldn’t affect any current store that was open on Sundays, but would solidify the Sunday observance laws the petitioners wanted to see continue.
The requested ordinance would allow Sunday dog or horse shows, sporting events and moving pictures after 12:30 p.m.
Drug stores with a pharmacist could stay open for all purposes, book blacks would be able to shine shoes all day, Christmas greenery could be sold on Sundays in December only, while garages, filling stations, hotels, boarding homes, restaurants, confectionaries and weiner stands could remain open but couldn’t sell anything on the prohibited list.
Items that would be prohibited from Sunday sales included clothing, furniture, house wares, household appliances, hardware or lumber, jewelry, silver ware, watches and musical instruments. No barbershops could remain open.
At its next board meeting, Waynesville aldermen declined to act, forcing blue law advocates to either drop the issue or take legal action.
The Rev. Robert Davis of Hazelwood Presbyterian presented the view of majority of churches in town that were strong advocates for Sunday remaining the Lord’s day. Davis said the desecration of the Lord’s day would lead to a general breakdown of morals in Haywood as it had tended to do in other communities.
“This law should have been on the books for years as many thought it was,” he told the board. “The only reason for not wanting it is to make a dollar and the only reason for wanting it is to protect the morality of the community.”
That argument prompted Seventh Day Adventists to counter that Saturday is the Lord’s day.
Waynesville Mayor Henry Clayton told blue law petitioners that a petition drive couldn’t force a vote on the matter. He said the only laws that allow for a citizen vote were on ABC stores and annexation.
A shocking death
By 1969, the former Canton and Waynesville high school rivalry had been transferred to the two new high schools finished in 1966.
The well-known football game between cross-county rivals had long been “the game” of the year — the one that mattered most to players, coaches and fans.
Such was the case on Oct. 20 when Pisgah and Tuscola football teams clashed on the football field.
During the game, Pisgah Coach Boyd Allen reported being a little sick and having gas pains in his chest before slumping to the ground.
As he was carried off the field past the team, he said, “Boys, win this game and go to church Sunday.”
Assistant Coach Bill Churm was by his side as the game continued. Allen’s concern was about how the game was going, and his last inquiry before he died during the third quarter was to Churm when he asked about the score.
Though Churm knew Allen was gone, he said nothing until the game was over.
The Bears won a final victory for Allen, beating the Mountaineers by 18-8 that night.
The following year, the field house built at Pisgah High School was named in honor of Allen.