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Easy Escapes | New Bern, N.C.

Mum’s the word this weekend in New Bern, the first capital of North Carolina and the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, and it’s not that bad a drive to bear from Myrtle Beach, with Wilmington as the midpoint.

This city, founded in 1710, named for the Swiss city Bern, a word meaning “bear” in Europe, boasts 44 painted bear sculptures through town. They won’t be the only things causing a roar during the city’s 22nd annual MumFest this Saturday and Sunday, either.

A visit to Tryon Palace, the first capital of the British province, then U.S. state, of North Carolina, might take at least a half-day to cover all its grounds and historic buildings. Guided tours inside the red brick government house, reconstructed in the 1950s from its 1767-70 specs, cross all three levels, with hosts in period dress taking turns recounting royal life from long before the luxuries of electricity and indoor plumbing.

The grand council chamber where the two British colonial governors who lived there conducted business – William Tryon and Josiah Martin – includes paintings of King Charles III and wife Charlotte, the N.C. Queen City’s namesake. Portraits elsewhere in the home also served as conversation starters, and strategically placed mirrors reflected more light inside from outside. The playing cards on tables also have faces, but no numbers.

Tour groups ascend the central stair corridor to the bedrooms and drawing room are reminded that women in that time fastened their attire not with buttons, but pins, and that shoes did not come in left and right versions, and stockings were tied with ribbons.

The descent to the cellar takes the servants’ stairs, with much thinner steps. Underground, the highest ranking employees – the butler and housekeeper – each had cages, or storage areas, stashed with wine and tea, respectively, the latter of which would cost about a servant a week’s pay for 1 pound.

In the rebuilt kitchen office nearby, across from the original stable office, catch and smell open hearth cooking and learn tidbits such as how a job there, starting as a scullery assistant, could lead to advancement for girls and women, for measuring recipe ingredients required use of reading and math, and some bonus French language mastery, with the prevalent of dishes that originated in France.

Inside two other homes from the late 1700s and early 1800s, docent Allie Andrews recounts the lives of George Dixon, a master tailor, and John Stanly, a military governor appointed by President Abraham Lincoln. Both places’ inch-and-half-thick floors made of N.C. yellow pine lead to stairwells lined with crested waves and to more portraits.

Two artworks of the first U.S. president hang in the Stanly home. Andrews shows a family portrait of the “first first family,” with George and Martha Washington and her two grandchildren whom they raised after their father’s death in the American Revolution. An engraving of Washington shows the tall general in a rarer younger pose. In both pieces, Andrews drew attention to the presence of Billy Lee, portrayed in many scenes with Washington as his longtime personal assistant, even on horseback. Lee’s value to Washington also drew respect from other statesmen, Andrews said, so much that Mount Vernon, Va., became Lee’s final resting place as well.

Washington, who spent two nights in New Bern in 1791, also danced in Tryon Palace, three years before the capital was moved to Raleigh for a more central location.

Pepsi’s Tar-Heel roots

Pepsi-Cola’s slogan today states it’s “Born in the Carolinas.” That beverage resulted from a concoction that Caleb Bradham, a University of North Carolina graduate, made in his corner pharmacy in New Bern with sugar, vanilla, cola nuts and pepsin, the digestive aid.

The Pepsi store, known formally as The Birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, serves up more than the fizz from “Brad’s Drink,” as it was first known. Although a drink now costs more than 5 cents, Pepsi pioneered its own firsts, such as the glass swirl bottle in 1958, adding an elegance.

“Nickel, Nickel,” known as the first nationwide radio jingle and later released in jukeboxes as “Pepsi-Cola Hits the Spot,” plays inside the store.

Other slogans have included “More Bounce to the Ounce,” in 1950, 30 years after “Drink Pepsi-Cola: It will satisfy you.”

Pepsi permeated the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, at the Moscow Fair in 1959, when then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev each sipped on the cola. Consumption spread through sales in China in 1982, by astronauts on the former Space Shuttle Challenger in 1985, and in 1991-92 by soldiers in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait.

World War II, during which Coca-Cola had a government contract to supply Allied troops, also prompted a change of colors for the Pepsi logo, to red, white and blue.

All that and more is just up the road in New Bern.

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