HAMLET — Sam T. Barnes was a 23-year-old medical student from Tennessee who spent an important part of his life during the 1950s completing an externship under the supervision of Dr. Bill James. He stopped by Main Street Central a few days ago and dropped off an artifact from his life and Hamlet’s history — a stuffed blue dachshund covered in best wishes and signatures from nursing students.
“This doggie was given to me by the nursing class when I went back to Memphis in 1960,” Barnes said said in a note left with the stuffed animal.
Nancy Rivers, owner of the antique shop, said Barnes had gone on to enjoy a successful career in medicine back in his home state but is now retiring further south.
“Sam Barnes dropped (the dog) off because he is 79 and moving to a little island off Charleston,” Rivers said. “He said he wanted to leave it in a place where it would be of historical significance.”
Although the rich blue color of the stuffed toy is faded or stained in many places and its eyes are missing, a close inspection reveals a good number of legible sentiments and names.
“Good luck always to the best intern we’ve ever had. Really,” wrote Tiz Williams. Williams would later marry into the Garner family. Her son, Cary Garner, is a former Hamlet mayor.
Other readable signatures are from Betty Hamer, J. Holland, Dot Wells, Peggy McInnis and someone who identified only as Butch, with the triple-punctuated promise, “I’ll learn to swim yet!!!”
On one of the dog’s ears was written, “Hoot & Holler” and “Don’t forget all of your friends at U.H.”
Rivers could not speculate with certainty as to the meaning of “U.H,” but she knows the meaning of the first words on the dog’s ear.
“The Hoot ‘n’ Holler is still owned by the James family,” Rivers said, displaying a recent photo of the place — a lake surrounded by lush, grassy banks that Rivers said has been used for recreation for several generations of family and friends.
Rivers explained that the original Hamlet Hospital was a white home owned by Dr. H.F. Kinsman, who sold it to Dr. W. D. James — father of Dr. Bill James — in 1915.
“I would not know who would have been in this (nursing) class of 1960,” she said. “This (Main Street Central building) used to be where the dorms were for the nurses — but only for nurses who came from out of town. I would say they bought it in the late ’40s and started renovating it, and I would say, probably Pete Wheeler told me it was 1975 or 1976 that was the last graduating class. And that was because of accreditation.”
Rivers said the nursing school had a diploma program that was absorbed into Richmond Community College in order to maintain its status with the accrediting board.
“It was probably Richmond Technical College, or Richmond Technical Institute at that time,” she said. “They just kept getting better and better at their academic programs.”
Dr. Barnes’ signed blue stuffed toy brought the past into the present again when he dropped it off, causing people to remember. Like every other item in the antique shop, it stands for someone — and in this case, several people — from years gone by and places barely recognizable today.
In a way, it was like walking a dog down memory lane.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.