Baumgartner Vaughan: Durham roots, Radford plants

Jul. 19, 2014 @ 04:17 PM

When I first began reporting, I noticed that one of the first questions interview subjects would ask me was, “Where are you from?” It’s just a way to make small talk, to look for common ground. Most of the time. Once a government official, who owned a farm and was about to hand me a goat to hold, called me a city girl for hesitating. It was actually because I was wearing the only nice blazer I owned at the time. I did hold the goat, and my jacket survived. I still have it. Anyway, sometimes that question is asked as a way to identify someone as an outsider, as if you can never belong or learn about a place unless your grandparents grew up there, too. Please.

My answer to where I spent my childhood is that I was an Army brat, so several places. Age 11 to 29 was spent in Virginia, and my 30s have been spent here in the land of the pines. The thing about roots is – if we’re talking trees, not carrots – they spread out. Out, out, out they go in all directions. Roots anchor us because they are spread out so much. And they connect with each other – and other trees’ roots – more than we think.

I wrote a story this week about the new Hugh Mangum photography exhibit at the Museum of Durham History Hub downtown. The exhibit curator asked me if I might be related as Mangum’s sister married a Vaughan. There’s a good chance that the Vaughans of my husband’s family who lived in Durham a few generations back were connected to all the other Vaughans. Maybe, maybe not.

Mangum took photos of Durhamites as well as setting up studios in, as it happened, Roanoke, Pulaski and Radford, Va., which all contain newspapers where I previously worked. Can’t say I’ve found a connection between Durham and Radford until now. Mangum’s wife was from Radford, as it happened. My affinity for both cities is similar. Radford, Va., is surrounded on three sides by the New River. The Eno River runs through Durham. Trains run through both cities. Radford is home to Radford University, which, depending on who you ask, is a boon or a drain on the city. Durham is also home to a university that is viewed in multiple lights, depending on who you ask. Radford had a few scandals when I was there about a decade ago. Durham, well, you know. There are major differences, of course, too, but if you look at two cities – any two cities – you can find similarities. Like people, really. Rivers, trains, interesting people – all cool things to have in a city, in my opinion, anyway. Maybe Mangum recognized a little bit of 1900 Durham in 1900 Radford. Roots stretch out and keep going.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at or 919-419-6563. Follow on Twitter: @dawnbvaughan.