SPIRIT OF STANLY 2024: SNAP reporter covered his share of unusual stories

Published 11:50 am Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Most writers guard their solitude. Fred T. Morgan never stood a chance. Morgan began his esteemed 34-year career at the Stanly News & Press in 1951, spending a chunk of his writing days in a newsroom with four other newsmen, four desk phones and four clacking typewriters — not exactly the sound of silence.

When his byline first appeared, his readers were asking, “Who’s Fred Morgan?” His colleague at the time, George Weaver, tried to tell them.

Weaver’s column reported Morgan was born in Big Lick in 1926 and graduated from Aquadale High School in 1943. He then enlisted in the United States Navy and spent his World War II service repairing airplane propellers in Florida. Morgan came back home to Stanly County and a job with the North Carolina Highway Department in 1946. He married Isabelle Griffin in 1951, the same year he was hired at the SNAP.

Weaver described Morgan as “a retiring young man, with reddish hair…[who] goes about his work conscientiously…has a soft voice…a gifted writer….” Weaver said Morgan’s journalism training came by way of correspondence courses from the Newspaper Institute of America.

No matter his slim writing credentials, Morgan proved himself in his first year at the SNAP. His first-place award from the North Carolina Press Association for his semi-weekly feature articles was a first for the Stanly newspaper. Other awards followed. Readers began dropping by the SNAP offices on West North Street to meet him and share news tips. As Stanly County folks got to know Morgan, he got to know them.

On the acknowledgement page of his 2008 book, “Come to the Lobby,” Morgan said, “I’ll betcha no staffer on a small-town newspaper anywhere had as colorful and productive a cadre of tipsters and informers as I had going for me.” He even gained the reputation of Oddity Editor.

Morgan also admitted some resentment over the frequent interruptions. A 12-second walk from the newsroom to the lobby to hear about things like gigantic watermelons or three-legged chickens triggered impatience and frowns from the young newsman — until he decided to change his attitude — until, “A call to the lobby became the most enjoyable time of my workday.”

His 1974 book, “Uwharrie Magic,” had its beginnings in the 1940s when Morgan began roaming the seven-county Uwharrie Mountain region. According to his introduction to a later book,  “Uwharrie Bizarres, Colorful Characters from America’s Oldest Mountains,” he was looking for any scary stories folks could tell.

Freddie Morgan, his son, was 4 years old when his mom and dad moved from Albemarle to a plot of country property off Valley Drive.

“Over the years we spent hundreds of hours beside a campfire chatting. Dad’s interest in folklore is what drew his attention. Ghost stories came as a sideline,” said Freddie Morgan. He remembers people asking if the stories were true. “Dad didn’t make them up, but he related the stories as they were told to him.”

’s strong work ethic learned from his parents, C.C. and Elizabeth Springer Morgan, and an instinctive grasp of human nature, informed his research methods. He kept work boots, coveralls, a straw hat, work gloves and a few tools in his pickup. When he found a house, or a family working in a field, he introduced himself and his desire to hear their stories, but first, he said, “let’s work awhile.”
Whatever they were doing, he pitched in — putting up fences, killing hogs, pickling beans — giving them time to think and to size him up.

“I put forth genuine, strong-back labor for them with no thought of monetary recompense. At the proper time they responded. The old barter system at work,” writes Morgan.
Bridget Huckabee, fellow-writer and Badin friend, remembers Morgan as a storyteller who was single-minded in his love of Stanly County history and who treated his well-researched subjects with a humorous, “light touch.”

Annette Starnes, Morgan’s daughter, remembers her dad walking back in the Albemarle house after a day of backwoods wanderings during the 1960s, yellow legal pad in hand, and say, “Let me go peck on my typewriter.”

Starnes says sometimes the whole family would go on visits — Isabelle, and daughters Rosemary and Annette, and later their younger brother Freddie. After Morgan’s first meeting with a man regarded as the last genuine hermit in the area, he took his wife and daughters to meet the old gentleman.

“After parking the El Camino, we walked quite a way through the woods. My sister and I were only 7 and 8 years old and we were a little scared,” said Starnes.

Morgan was an occasional Sunday school teacher at Badin Baptist Church, recalls longtime member Pawnee Barden.

“His ghost stories sometimes showed up in the lessons,” she said.

Morgan also showed up at Badin Elementary School around the end of October each year that Freddie was a student, sharing those ghost stories with his son’s classes — a source of pride for young Freddie.

Morgan took up other 9-to-5 jobs after his tenure at the SNAP, and Starnes says her dad continued to use his talents well into retirement.

“He was a super photographer, a wonderful woodworker and gardener,” said Starnes.

He added piano lessons to his resume when he was 65, she said.

When Morgan died in 2009, at the age of 82, B. J. Drye’s editorial response in the SNAP recognized Morgan as one of the last links to a long-gone era who “created a wealth of fact and fiction for generations to enjoy.”

Accessing that wealth of stories may take a little searching these days, but it’s well worth the effort and would be a small tribute to Fred T. Morgan, who for 60 years searched tirelessly for stories, and maybe ghosts, and discovered his Stanly County neighbors in the process —colorful characters all, and he considered himself one of them.

Jo Grey is a freelance writer.

This article originally appeared in the Spirit of Stanly magazine.

Books By Fred T. Morgan

“Ghost Tales of the Uwharries,” 1968

“Uwharrie Magic,” 1974

“Haunted Uwharries,” 1992

“The Revolt, and 28 More Original Uwharrie Ghost Stories,” 2004

“Uwharrie Bizarres, Colorful Characters from America’s Oldest Mountains,” 2007

“Come to the Lobby,” 2008