Bill Nye But Not The Science Guy - TribPapers

Bill Nye But Not The Science Guy

Bill Nye, not the science guy. Photo Public Domain.

Fletcher – State historic landmarks dot the roadways across North Carolina. Most people pass the marker containing brief tidbits of information about some famous person or event that happened nearby at the speed limit or a little faster, never reading or caring about what the marker may have said. Even those who do take the time to read the signs only get the briefest of glimpses into the person or event.

Bill Nye’s marker in Fletcher. Photo by Clint Parker

Sometimes the marker is located at a stop sign or stoplight, and people who are not distracted by their cellphones might read the markers while waiting for the light to change.

Such is the case with Edgar W. “Bill Nye’s 20-word info sign located at the corner of Fanning Bridge Road and Hendersonville Hwy in Fletcher. The sign says Nye was a journalist and humorist who died in Arden and was buried at the Calvary Episcopal Churchyard. However, it doesn’t really say why he desired a marker. Let’s look at why.
Born in 1850, way up north in Shirley, Maine, Nye moved with his parents to  St. Croix River in northern Wisconsin in 1852, where he was educated at River Falls. Nye studied law. Later moving to the Wyoming Territory, he joined the bar in Laramie City in 1876.

Nye was a justice of the peace, superintendent of schools, city council member, and postmaster, according to his Wikipedia entry. He contributed amusing illustrations to the Laramie Daily Sentinel under the pseudonym “Bill Nye.” “Bill Nye” was a character in a well-known poem of the time.

According to a 1991 article about Nye found at NCpedia written by James Meehan: “His sketches of western life became widely known and were reprinted as far west as San Francisco and south to Texas.” In 1881, he founded his own paper, the Laramie Boomerang, which he edited for three years. He quickly achieved a national reputation with his humorous articles, and three collections of them were published: Bill Nye and the Boomerang (1881), Forty Liars and Other Lies (1882), and Baled Hay (1884). For health reasons, he was advised to seek another climate. He lived briefly in Greeley, Colo., and Hudson, Wis., before going east to accept a position on the New York World in 1886.

Over the next decade, Nye became one of the leading humorists. “His columns were syndicated nationally, he contributed to the leading magazines, and his work even became well known abroad.” During this period and for the rest of his life, he was a popular lecturer across the nation, at first alone and then in the company of poet James Whitcomb Riley. “Nye and Riley were one of the most popular lecture teams of that time; Riley’s sentiment and pathos contrasted well with Nye’s wit and satire,” wrote Meehan.

He visited the Asheville area for the first time in 1886 and was impressed with the scenery and climate, writing: “You will find enough climate in twenty minutes to last a week.” A truth area residents can still testify to this very day. “The two chief products of Western North Carolina are smoking tobacco and climate. If you do not like the climate, you can help yourself to the smoking tobacco,” Nye is said to have stated.

Meehan’s article also includes Nye’s discovery of white lightning. “In a mountain hollow he came upon what ‘seemed to be a kind of laboratory, for I could see here and there the earmarks of the chemist.’ The article states, “A shaggy mountaineer appeared and ‘showed me a new beverage that he had been engaged in perfecting… I took some of it to show that I confided in him…The fluid must have been alcoholic in its nature, for when I regained consciousness, I was extremely elsewhere . . . I hardly knew how I got home, but I finally did get there, accompanied by a strong leaning toward Prohibition.'”

In 1891, he permanently relocated to Arden. “He was in poor health due to attacks of meningitis, yet he continued to write and give lectures. The citizens of Asheville welcomed their famous new resident with a gala banquet on December 29, 1891. He and Zebulon B. Vance were the featured speakers, and the audience, according to newspaper reports, “wept with laughter,” the article stated.

In 1896, Nye succumbed to his meningitis and was laid to rest in the Calvary Episcopal Church, Fletcher, NC, where he was a member.