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Interview with Johnston V. McCall

McCall, Johston V.
Causby, Anna
Date of Interview: 
Woodrow Wilson; Early Charlotte; Lakewood Park; Camp Greene; Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence; Street railroads; Strikes and lockouts
Mr. McCall, the son of a former mayor of Charlotte, gives interesting details about Charlotte including the streetcar strike, the lumber yard fire, and celebrations on May 20th commemorating the signing of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. He also discusses his education and career, and provides an interesting story about President Woodrow Wilson's visit to the city.
Interview Setting: 
Interviewed as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The WSOC-TV Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
AC (Anna Causby): This is Anna Causby, May 24, 1979 interviewing Johnston V. McCall. What would you like to talk to us about today?
JM (Johnston V. McCall): Well, I was born in Charlotte. I, and I have a lot of memories of my early boyhood. We lived at 607 North Graham St., beautiful old home with a huge tree, and I remember that my father was mayor of Charlotte just before I was born, and as I recall, he use to say he drove all the saloons out of Charlotte. He crusaded against liquor.
AC: Really? Fighter of liquor by the drink? [laughter]
JM: Yes, and I knew most of his friends of the time, Colonel Kirkpatrick, who was mayor later and Mayor McNinch, I knew him well. I knew many of the famous personages of that time, like Harry Harding who was superintendent of schools, and Mr. Thomlinson who was one of the board members. I, I remember the famous streetcar strike there. They had a lot of violence, they had a lot bloodshed out of the car barn. I think it was out on boulevard at the time. I also remember the famous lumberyard fire, which burned down a good part of that end of Charlotte. I, [long pause] Well I have so many memories, I'll try to have to think of some of them.
JM: I graduated from the AG school, I believe on Morehead Street, when my brother was principal there, Fred B. McCall, who later became Professor of Law at Chapel Hill. [long pause] I also remember that beautiful old City Hall, especially with that clock and I've often wondered what happened to it because I'm a clock collector and I would loved to have had it. [laughter] It disappeared after I left to go to college in 1920.
AC: Where did you go to college?
JM: Pardon me, in 1916. The University of North Carolina. Got my Master's there, worked on my PhD there, and I went to Madrid, Spain, got another degree there. And then I went off teaching languages for twenty years. Finally, I landed with the State Department in Washington, became chief of translating there. And retired and I thought the only possible place to come back was to Charlotte, our home city. My former wife, my late wife, was Mary Murray McCall who passed away in 1975 and I married her niece, Alice McCall, who is here today.
AC: [laughter]
JM: And you might like to ask me a question or two and I can bring up some memory of Charlotte. I remember the--.
AM (Alice McCall): Tell them about your father being mayor of Charlotte.
JM: Yes, I told them, I said, yes. I always remember the wonderful times that we use to have these outings at Lakewood Park. Also the great old fair that we use to have here. I also have some vivid memories of Camp Greene--,
AC: Oh, when did you go there?
JM: which was established here during the war. At one time I think they had some twenty thousand soldiers out there. As a teenager, I went out visiting quite often and I ran into a Spanish soldier out there, and I was very interested in Spanish at the time. So I got a lot of good practice speaking Spanish with him. Then the flu epidemic hit in the winter of 1918, or '19 I believe it was, and it swept through the camp there and many, many of the soldiers died from that epidemic and my own mother died from that. And all I can see of it now is Camp Greene Avenue whenever I go out there, there is one sign on a street. I understand there's a movement to kind of bring that back, rehabilitate some of the structures that were there at the time. At present, I'm a Chairman of Senior Scholars and at our meeting Tuesday I urged all the people there to come down and give thier impressions, Ms. Garelik, I noticed was here this morning, who is a member of our group. This may not be relevant but since I came back I've been teaching at Queens College. I've been teaching Russian, Italian, French, clock repair, book repair and I'm slated to give a course in bric-a-brac repair next month. So with a great deal of lecturing I manage to keep pretty busy now.
AC: You sure do.
JM: And well a lot of things will come to me, but I can't think of them right now. I loved Charlotte and still do because it was a great place to be of even then. When I left it I think it had 34,000 people. Now I understand it's what 300,000. And practically everybody knew everybody else in those days. I knew Bill Haygood who is a very prominent citizen here now. I went to school with Oliver Rowe who is also very prominent here. Quite a few of my old Carolina classmates still live here in the city, so I have many roots here, many friendships and I'm very happy to be back. Well that's about all I can think of right now.
AC: OK, you've told us some valuable information.
JM: Well I hope so.
AC: Thanks very much.
JM: Thank you.
AC: This is Anna
AM: [laughter]
JM: I thought of one more important thing in the life of Charlotte, but I don't know if you could work it in or not.
AM: What was that ( )?
AC: This is Johnston McCall continued.
JM: I remember that as a boy we really celebrated the 20th of May, it was just like July the 4th to us, we shot firecrackers, we raised the general dickens all over town. But one great event that occurred was the visit of President Woodrow Wilson to Charlotte. He spoke at a stand in front of the old Presbyterian College on College Street. There was a huge crowd and I was a boy scout at the time so we held our long staves around to keep the crowd from coming too close, so I had a ringside seat. Colonel Kirkpatrick who was mayor at the time got up, and made a fourty-five minute introduction, and everybody got impatient began to tell him to sit down. Finally, he sat down, and Woodrow Wilson got up and spoke five or ten minutes. Well, everybody held that against Colonel Kirkpatrick, but later on we learned from his wife that he had specifically asked Colonel Kirkpatrick to make a long introduction because he was not feeling at all good that day, and he wanted to make his speech as short as possible. And I think the record ought to be corrected on that because so many people, even today, think that Colonel Kirkpatrick tried to hog the whole show.
AC: Um-hum.
JM: But it was an injustice to him, and I only learned that not too long ago. And I again I had a chance to shake his hands, President Wilson, and again on an occasion when he was passing through Charlotte campaigning for re-election. And he stood at the back of his train there at the old Southern station and a lot of us, including myself, reached our hands up and he shook it. So, he became my hero from then on. So I think those are two important events in the life of myself and of Charlotte. Thank you, that's something
AC: Thank you.
JM: I had to add.
AC: Good. To add. Thank you.
JM: Yes.